Home News In Dual Border Visits, Biden and Trump Try to Score Points at a Political Hot Spot

In Dual Border Visits, Biden and Trump Try to Score Points at a Political Hot Spot

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In Dual Border Visits, Biden and Trump Try to Score Points at a Political Hot Spot

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President Biden and former President Donald J. Trump made dueling visits to the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday, with Mr. Biden challenging his predecessor to “join me” in securing the country’s southern frontier and Mr. Trump blaming the president for lawlessness at the border.

The remarks came at a moment of political peril for Mr. Biden, who has faced criticism from both parties as the number of people crossing into the United States has reached record levels, with migrant encounters more than double than in the Trump years.

In appearances some 300 miles apart in Texas, Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump tried to leverage what is likely to become the most volatile policy dispute of the 2024 campaign.

The president called on his predecessor to help pass a bipartisan bill in Congress that would significantly crack down on border crossings. Republicans, at Mr. Trump’s urging, torpedoed the bill — legislation that they themselves had demanded — saying it wasn’t strong enough.

“Instead of telling members of Congress to block this legislation, join me,” Mr. Biden said in Brownsville, a border city in the Rio Grande Valley.

“You know and I know it’s the toughest, most efficient, most effective border security bill this country has ever seen,” he said. “Instead of playing politics with the issue, why don’t we just get together and get it done.”

Mr. Biden’s words amounted to a political dare. But they were also an acknowledgment of Mr. Trump’s power over the Republican Party, particularly when it comes to the border, at a time when many Americans say that immigration is their top concern and they do not have confidence that Mr. Biden is addressing it.

In Eagle Pass, which has become a common backdrop for politicians who want to show they are tough on immigration, Mr. Trump stood near a makeshift wall of razor wire and used the language of war to describe the border crisis.

“It’s a military operation,” he said after touring Shelby Park, where Gov. Greg Abbott has sent the Texas National Guard to police the border. Mr. Trump said that the migrants “look like warriors to me,” adding that “something’s going on. It’s bad.” He also highlighted crimes committed by migrants in an attempt to portray Mr. Biden as plunging the nation into crime and disorder.

Mr. Trump deplored the death of Laken Riley, the 22-year-old found dead on the campus of the University of Georgia in Athens. The man charged in her killing is a migrant from Venezuela who crossed the southern border in September 2022.

Even border authorities who worked for Mr. Trump, however, have said most migrants who cross the border are vulnerable families fleeing poverty and violence rather than criminals.

Mr. Trump is planning an extreme expansion of his anti-immigration policies if he returns to power in 2025. He would scour the country for mass deportations, build huge camps in the United States to detain undocumented immigrants and refuse asylum claims on the basis of assertions that the applicants carry infections like tuberculosis.

The Texas showdown was the latest sign of how divisive immigration has become in the United States. Any headway on the issue has run into a wall in Washington, where the polarization in the country has prevented any compromise by lawmakers.

Even Mr. Biden’s choice of Brownsville came under fire from Mr. Trump and his allies because the city has seen a recent dip in border crossings. They said Mr. Biden should have gone to a busier crossing. The administration said Brownsville was an example of how Mr. Biden works with Mexico to deter migrants.

Along the 2,000-mile border, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it had encountered migrants between ports of entry 124,220 times in January, down from more than 249,000 the previous month. But taken as a whole, the border crisis has grown worse during the Biden administration.

Some of the causes are beyond Mr. Biden’s control, such as the surge in migration around the world and Republicans who have tried to thwart his efforts to address the problems. But the crisis has defied easy solutions for years, and some critics say his early promises of more humane treatment led traffickers and smugglers to send migrants to America with the false promise that the new president was opening the border.

Even as Mr. Biden’s administration created legal pathways for migrants and began rebuilding the refugee system, he came to embrace some of Mr. Trump’s more restrictive tactics.

Although Mr. Biden is still calling on Congress to pass a border bill, he is considering executive action that would accomplish something similar — curtail asylum at the border. The move would shut down the border to new arrivals if more than an average of 5,000 migrants per day tried to cross unlawfully in the course of a week, or more than 8,500 tried to cross in a day. (Republicans say those numbers are still too high.)

The administration has argued that congressional legislation would be less likely than executive action to face a legal challenge.

Democrats who are concerned about the damaging politics of immigration see a possible path forward with a tougher approach after Tom Suozzi, a former Democratic congressman, won a closely watched special House election in New York last month.

Mr. Suozzi took a hard stance on the border, calling for it to be shut down and challenging Republicans on issues that they usually dominate, such as immigration.

Mr. Biden will face a tough task in outperforming Mr. Trump among voters who strongly care about illegal immigration. Mr. Biden spent most of the 2020 campaign attacking Mr. Trump over his anti-immigration agenda, and he came into office pledging to restore compassion and humanity to the immigration system.

His wife, Jill Biden, visited a camp in Matamoros, Mexico, in 2019 that was filled with migrants who had been turned away by the former president. She wrote in an opinion essay in 2020 that Mr. Biden would “restore asylum protections.”

Representative Vicente Gonzalez, Democrat of Texas, said on Thursday that despite Mr. Biden’s more forceful stance on immigration, he does not put the president in the same category as Mr. Trump.

“I still think they’re very different,” said Mr. Gonzalez, who joined Mr. Biden on his tour. “I mean, we’re not going to be ripping children from mothers’ arms and separating families and caging children, but we are going to bring order to the border.”

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