By SEUNG MIN KIM and COLLEEN LONG (Associated Press)
HEBRON, Ky. (AP) — President Joe Biden intends to visit the U.S.-Mexico border — his first since taking office — in connection with his meeting next week in Mexico City with the leaders of Mexico and Canada.
“That’s my intention, we’re working out the details now,” Biden told reporters Wednesday during a trip to Kentucky.
Biden said upon his return to the White House that he hoped to see “what’s going on” at the border and also planned to make remarks about border security on Thursday.
There have been large increases in the number of migrants at the border even as a U.S. public health law remains in place that allows American authorities to turn away many people seeking asylum in the United States. Republican leaders have criticized the president for policies that they say are ineffective on border security and they have questioned why he has not made a trip there yet.
The increased focus from Biden on the border also comes as the president prepares for a 2024 reelection bid. His sole declared potential rival, Donald Trump, rose to the top of the GOP ranks by animating the party’s base voters with his hardline stances on immigration.
But there was some praise Wednesday after the news.
“I’m pleased President Biden will finally visit our southern border – which has been completely surrendered to the cartels, smugglers, and human traffickers,” tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., among those most critical.
Among the complaints on border security by Republicans is the amount of fentanyl coming into the U.S. via Mexico. A 2022 report from a bipartisan federal commission found that fentanyl and similar drugs are being made mostly in labs in Mexico from chemicals shipped primarily from China.
And fentanyl and other lab-produced synthetic opioids now are driving an overdose crisis deadlier than any the U.S. has ever seen. But drug control advocates and experts say an anti-drug policy that relies on tighter border security is dangerous and likely futile. It’s too easy to move in small, hard-to-detect quantities.
Drug trafficking and immigration are among the top talking points at the summit Monday and Tuesday when Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are hosted by Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Early in his presidency, Biden put Vice President Kamala Harris in charge of the White House effort to tackle the migration challenge at the border and work with Central American nations to address central causes of the problem. She visited El Paso, Texas, in June 2021 and was criticized for choosing a location too far from the epicenter of border crossings that straining federal resources. The number of migrants crossing the border has only risen.
For now, the Supreme Court has for now kept in place Trump-era restrictions, often known as Title 42 in reference to a 1944 public health law, after Biden acted to end them and Republicans sued in response. Title 42 was invoked to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but there always has been criticism that the restrictions were used as a pretext by then-President Donald Trump to seal off the border.
Biden also has yet to lay out any systemic changes to manage an expected surge of migrants should the health restrictions end. And the president is limited in what he can do without immigration law changes. But in Congress, a bipartisan immigration bill was buried shortly before Republicans assumed control of the House.
Biden made his comment about the upcoming visit during a stop in Kentucky at a highway bridge that is receiving federal dollars under the bipartisan infrastructure law.
Trump visited the U.S. side of the border as president several times times, including one trip to McAllen, Texas, where he claimed Mexico would pay for the border wall.
American taxpayers ended up covering the costs. Mexican leaders had flatly rejected the idea when Trump pressed them early on. “NO,” Enrique Peña Nieto, then Mexico’s president, tweeted in May 2018. “Mexico will NEVER pay for a wall. Not now, not ever. Sincerely, Mexico (all of us).”
Long reported from Washington.