Biden and Trump make dueling trips to Texas

President Joe Biden and his likely Republican challenger Donald Trump both headed to the U.S.-Mexican border in Texas on Thursday, showing how central immigration has become to the 2024 election.


National News

February 29, 2024 - 2:32 PM

A member of the National Guard directs a vehicle at the gate to Shelby Park along the Rio Grande, Wednesday in Eagle Pass, Texas. Photo by AP Photo/Eric Gay

EAGLE PASS, Texas (AP) — President Joe Biden and his likely Republican challenger Donald Trump both headed to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas on Thursday in a sign of how central immigration has become to the 2024 election and how much each man wants to use it to his advantage.

Each has chosen an optimal location from which to underscore his points.

Biden, who wants to spotlight how Republicans tanked a bipartisan border security deal on Trump’s orders, headed to the Rio Grande Valley city of Brownsville. For nine years, this was the busiest corridor for illegal crossings, but they have dropped sharply in recent months.

“Brownsville, Texas, is a very good glimpse of how dynamic and challenging that migration phenomenon is,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said from Air Force One.

Trump, for his part, wants to continue his attacks on Biden and keep up his dialed-up rhetoric after saying migrants were poisoning the blood of Americans. He journeyed to Eagle Pass, roughly 325 miles northwest of Brownsville, in the corridor that’s currently seeing the largest number of crossings. Trump was to speak from a state park that has become a Republican symbol of defiance against the federal government’s immigration enforcement practices.

In other words, the split screen moment couldn’t possibly be more split, and each candidate is asking voters to side with his approach to immigration.

Among voters, worries about the nation’s broken immigration system are rising on both sides of the political divide, which could be especially problematic for Biden.

According to an AP-NORC poll in January, the share of voters concerned about immigration rose to 35% from 27% last year. Fifty-five percent of Republicans say the government needs to focus on immigration in 2024, while 22% of Democrats listed immigration as a priority. That’s up from 45% and 14%, respectively, from December 2022.

The number of people who are illegally crossing the U.S. border has been rising for years for complicated reasons that include climate change, war and unrest in other nations, the economy, and cartels that see migration as a cash cow.

The administration’s approach has been to pair crackdowns at the border with increasing legal pathways for migrants designed to steer people into arriving by plane with sponsors, not illegally on foot to the border.

Arrests for illegal crossings fell by half in January, but there were record highs in December. The numbers of migrants flowing across the U.S-Mexico border have far outpaced the capacity of an immigration system that has not been substantially updated in decades. Trump and Republicans claim Biden is refusing to act, but absent law change from Congress, any major policies are likely to be challenged or held up in court.

Trump landed to cheers from a crowd gathered at the small airport who held signs that read: “Trump 2024.” Some yelled, “Way to go, Trump.” He chatted with supporters for a few minutes before getting into his waiting SUV.

“Nice weather, a beautiful day but a very dangerous border,” he said. “We’re going to take care of it.”

From Air Force One, Mayorkas dismissed claims the president’s visit was political, and noted how badly his department that manages the U.S.-Mexico border needed extra funding that would have been contained in the collapsed bill.

“This visit is focused on the work that we do, not the rhetoric of others,” he said. “This is focused on operational needs, operational challenges and the significant impact that legislation would have in enhancing our border security.”

In a symbol of the political divide, the Republican-controlled House voted to impeach Mayorkas over the Biden administration’s handling of the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats say the charges amount to a policy dispute, not the “high crimes and misdemeanors” laid out as a bar for impeachment in the Constitution.

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