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Biden visits U.S.-Mexico border for 1st time as president

ANDREW LIMBONG, HOST:

President Joe Biden has been in El Paso today for his first visit to the U.S.-Mexico border since he became president. He will then travel on to Mexico for a meeting with the presidents of Mexico and Canada. NPR's Eyder Peralta has been following this story and joins us from Mexico City. Hi, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Andrew.

LIMBONG: All right. So let's start with El Paso. What has the president been doing there?

PERALTA: Yeah. Republicans have been criticizing the president for not visiting the border. And in their eyes, he was ignoring the humanitarian crisis there. So today, he went there to tour some facilities and talk to some border agents. And he even took a tour of the border wall. The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, didn't seem very happy about the visit. He said that the president was, quote, "two years late." He handed the president a letter in which he said that the chaos at the border was, quote, "the direct result of your failure to enforce the immigration laws." President Biden said he had not yet read Abbott's letter, and he did say that more resources were needed at the border. Earlier, his secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, said that their immigration policies were intended to lessen the chaos and to create a safe path for immigrants to seek asylum in the U.S.

LIMBONG: Now, for this coming summit of North American leaders, I'm guessing migration will be a big topic of discussion.

PERALTA: Yeah, huge, no doubt. This is a moment of a lot of turmoil in this hemisphere. You talked about what's happening in Brazil, right? So there is a historic number of Latin Americans on the move. And this is an issue not just for the U.S., but for Mexico, which is also receiving a lot of immigrants. What's interesting is that there are parallels between the Mexican and the American president. When President Biden came into power, he had promised a U-turn from the anti-immigrant policies that President Trump had enacted. And yet last week, he told migrants, point-blank, to stop coming to the border. And he announced that immigrants from Nicaragua, Haiti, Cuba and Venezuela, most of whom are seeking political asylum, will be automatically expelled to Mexico.

I talked to Carolina Jimenez Sandoval of the Washington Office on Latin America, and she says what's interesting is that Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador came into power saying some of the same things that Biden was. Let's listen.

CAROLINA JIMENEZ SANDOVAL: He also came to power saying Mexico will have a humane policy towards immigrants. Yet in practice, some of the main policies adopted by both administrations are policies that are - in a way, mirror those of the Trump administration.

LIMBONG: Wow. So essentially, it sounds like the talks on immigration at least won't be very tense.

PERALTA: I mean, I think there are actual disagreements on the nitty-gritty parts of immigration policy. Some Mexican officials have hinted at that. But Carolina Jimenez Sandoval says that both countries have agreed that what they want to do is to deter immigrants from ever leaving their countries in the first place. So Mexico has agreed to take back tens of thousands of Cubans, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and Haitians. And this makes the U.S.'s hard-line policies on asylum-seekers possible. One analyst I spoke to said that sometimes on the surface, it may seem like Mexican and American leaders disagree. But these two countries are so interconnected for economic reasons, cultural reasons, security reasons, that they will almost always find ways to support each other's priorities.

LIMBONG: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta in Mexico City. Thanks, Eyder.

PERALTA: Thank you, Andrew. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.