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Influx of migrants at US-Mexico border poses conundrum for Biden

Migrants await processing by immigration authorities after crossing the US-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas, December 20, 2023
Migrants await processing by immigration authorities after crossing the US-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas, December 20, 2023 - Copyright AFP/File Francois PICARD
Migrants await processing by immigration authorities after crossing the US-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas, December 20, 2023 - Copyright AFP/File Francois PICARD
Selim SAHEB ETTABA with Francois PICARD in Eagle Pass

US border patrol and several states have found themselves overwhelmed lately, lacking resources to manage the thousands of migrants arriving from Mexico every day — a crisis that has exposed President Joe Biden to intense attacks from his Republican opponents.

Border officials have in recent weeks counted some 10,000 daily crossings — an uptick from preceding months, which had already seen migrants arrive at an accelerating clip.

There were more than 2.4 million migrant interceptions via land in the year from October 2022 to September 2023.

On Tuesday, authorities closed railroads at Eagle Pass and El Paso, Texas due to a “resurgence” of undocumented migrants entering the United States via freight trains. 

Border crossings by car have been suspended at Eagle Pass since early December, as have entry points in California and Arizona, with border police saying they had to move personnel away from those checkpoints to focus on processing irregular entries.

Accusing Biden of “deliberate inaction” on the border issue, Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott this week approved a controversial law criminalizing illegal entry into his state. 

Abbott, a staunch supporter of Donald Trump, hosted a signing ceremony in front of a section of border wall in the city of Brownsville, a nod to the former president’s flagship project and intense 2024 anti-immigration platform. 

The law, set to go into effect in March, makes it a crime to illegally enter Texas from a foreign country, punishable by six months in prison — or up to 20 years, in the case of repeat offenders. 

It gives Texas state law enforcement the ability to arrest migrants and deport them to Mexico — a power normally reserved for federal authorities.  

In response, several human rights organizations, including the influential ACLU, immediately filed lawsuits challenging the Texas law’s constitutionality. 

Even political allies in border states have taken Biden to task over migration, with Arizona’s Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs saying “the federal government is refusing to do its job to secure our border and keep our communities safe.”

Earlier this month, Hobbs announced she would send Arizona National Guard troops to the border to help pick up some of the slack. 

– A ‘broken’ system –

The reasons for this recent uptick in migration are not totally clear. Customs and Border Protection have blamed “smugglers peddling disinformation to prey on vulnerable individuals.”

Several migrants in Texas told AFP there has been gossip swirling that a total closure of the US border was imminent, which could have fueled some recent crossings.  

“There were rumors that from the 20th (of December), they wouldn’t let anyone else in,” said 32-year-old Yurianlis Alexmar Camacho, who had come from Venezuela with her husband and four children. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will travel to Mexico in the coming days to meet with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in an effort to stem this incessant flow, the White House announced Thursday. 

“The president understands that we have to fix this immigration system. It has been broken for decades now,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said the same day. 

Biden said earlier this month he was prepared to compromise with congressional Republicans on a border plan — they have demanded a concrete tightening of immigration policy in exchange for agreeing on a new aid package for Ukraine. 

The situation is fraught for Biden as he begins his 2024 White House reelection campaign in earnest: in addition to criticism from the right, which says he is too soft on immigration, the president’s progressive supporters expect him to stay far away from his predecessor’s policies on migrants, who are mostly fleeing poverty and violence in Latin America. 

But he will have to face the issue head-on one way or another, and soon, as there is no sign the steady flow of arrivals will let up.

Panama said earlier this month that since the start of 2023, half a million people — or double the number from last year — had crossed into its territory through the jungle at the perilous Darien Gap the separates the country from Colombia. The vast majority were headed for the United States. 

AFP
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