Biden and Trump visit US-Mexico border amid immigration crisis

Election frontrunners make competing visits, but while Biden seeks compromise, Trump deploys incendiary rhetoric.

Joe Biden and Donald Trump
President Joe Biden, left, and former President Donald Trump made duelling trips to the US-Mexico border in Texas, February 29, 2024 [AP Photo]

US President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump made separate visits to the US-Mexico border in Texas, competing over who has the best approach to tackling immigration.

The simultaneous visits by the two politicians on Thursday, 523km (325 miles) apart on the banks of the winding border river, highlighted the extent to which illegal immigration has become a hot-button issue ahead of a likely election rematch between the pair in November.

President Joe Biden talks with the U.S. Border Patrol, as he looks over the southern border, Thursday, February 29, 2024, in Brownsville, Texas
President Joe Biden talks with the US Border Patrol, as he looks over the southern border, February 29, 2024, in Brownsville, Texas, along the Rio Grande [Evan Vucci/AP]

Biden, who visited the Rio Grande Valley city of Brownsville, long the busiest corridor for border crossings, underlined the necessity of a bipartisan border security bill, which was tanked by Republicans on Trump’s orders. He asked the Republican frontrunner to join him in supporting a congressional push for more funding and tighter restrictions.

“Here’s what I would say to Mr Trump,” Biden said. “Instead of playing politics with the issue, join me, or I’ll join you in telling the Congress to pass this bill. You know and I know it’s the toughest, most efficient, most effective border security bill this country’s ever seen.”

Trump met Texas National Guard soldiers who had put up razor-wire fencing at the river’s edge in Eagle Pass, a few hundred miles northwest of Brownsville. He adopted a more bellicose tone.

“This is like a war,” he said. “They’re being let into our country and it’s horrible,” he said, declaring that migrants arriving at the border were “criminals” and “terrorists”.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump talks with Maj. Gen. Thomas Suelzer, Adjutant General for the State of Texas, at Shelby Park during a visit to the US-Mexico border, Thursday, February 29, 2024
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks with Major-General Thomas Suelzer, adjutant general for the State of Texas, at Shelby Park during a visit to the US-Mexico border, February 29, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas [Eric Gay/AP Photo]

Trump also brought up the recent death of a 22-year-old nursing student in Georgia, killed while out on a jog on her college campus.

The case, in which the prime suspect is a Venezuelan migrant, is now at the centre of the immigration debate.

Trump placed the blame on Biden’s shoulders. “Crooked Joe has the blood of countless innocent victims,” he said. “It’s so many stories to tell, so many horrible stories.”

Tougher measures

The number of people crossing the US border from Mexico has been rising for years, for reasons that include climate change, war and unrest in other nations and the economy.

Arrests for illegal crossings fell by half in January, but there were record highs in December.

In Washington, the debate over immigration has shifted further to the right. Biden took office in 2021 promising to reverse the hardline immigration policies of Trump but has since toughened his own approach.

Under pressure from Republicans who accuse him of failing to control the border, Biden called on Congress last year to provide more enforcement funding and said he would “shut down the border” if given new authority to turn back migrants.

Trump, who was president from 2017 to early 2021, has made immigration and border security his signature issue.

A Reuters-Ipsos poll from January 31 found rising concern among Americans about immigration, with 17 percent of respondents listing it as the most important problem facing the US today, up sharply from 11 percent in December. It was the top concern of Republican respondents, with 36 percent citing it as their main worry, above the 29 percent who cited the economy.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies