United States

Biden and Trump Make Dueling Border Visits Amid Migrant Crisis

Author: Editors Desk, Tarini Parti in Brownsville, Texas, and Adolfo Flores in Eagle Pass, Texas, and Annie Linskey in Washington Source: WSJ:
February 29, 2024 at 20:35
The two likely 2024 opponents are seeking to blame the other’s party for record illegal crossings that are a top concern for voters.


President Biden and former President Donald Trump, the two likely 2024 election opponents, visited different parts of the Texas U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday as a bipartisan immigration bill remains stuck in the Senate. Photo: Eric Gay/AP; Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President Biden and former President Donald Trump made dueling visits to the U.S.-Mexico border Thursday, as the two likely 2024 opponents used Texas towns 300 miles apart to push for tougher border policies while blaming the other’s party for failing to fix the migrant crisis.

The nationally televised events—each featuring meetings with law-enforcement officials, tours of border barriers and curious onlookers—highlighted the extraordinary importance of immigration as an issue in the presidential election that has become a top concern for voters both near and far from the border amid record illegal crossings.

Biden, making his second trip to the border as president, received a briefing from Border Patrol agents by the Rio Grande and met with law enforcement and local leaders. He blamed Republicans for blocking a bipartisan border agreement in the Senate that would have allowed the government to expel migrants if crossings surpassed a daily threshold of 4,000. After months of negotiations, Republicans ultimately said the terms didn’t go far enough. 

“Folks it’s real simple—it’s time to act. It’s well past time to act,” Biden said, pitching the bipartisan deal that would increase funding for border security and give the president the authority to close ports of entry. “It’s time to step up.”

 Migrants along the banks of the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas, last week. PHOTO: JORDAN VONDERHAAR/BLOOMBERG NEWS
Migrants along the banks of the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas, last week. PHOTO: JORDAN VONDERHAAR/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Trump, meanwhile, gave remarks at Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, which has become a hot spot for migrants crossing the Rio Grande from neighboring Piedras Negras, Mexico, and a site of a standoff between state officials and federal Border Patrol agents.

“This is a Joe Biden invasion,” Trump said, blasting Biden’s handling of the border, tying the influx of migrants to crime. “Now the United States is being overrun by the Biden migrant crime.”

Neither Biden nor Trump met with any migrants in Texas.

In a Gallup poll conducted between Feb. 1 and 20, respondents named immigration as the most important problem facing the country, with a significant uptick in the number who characterized it that way compared with just a month ago. 

After three years of trying to defend Biden’s handling of the border from GOP attacks, Democrats see an opening to shift blame on Republicans for not passing the Senate deal. 

Democrat Tom Suozzi used that approach to beat Republican Mazi Pilip in a recent special election for a House seat in New York. Suozzi, who endorsed the bipartisan border deal, accused Pilip of criticizing Biden without proposing her own immigration solution.

The likely 2024 opponents both calling for tougher border policies marks a dramatic shift from four years ago, when Biden ran against Trump’s hardline immigration policies and put forward the most liberal immigration proposal of any mainstream Democratic candidate in history. Biden, who ran on restoring the asylum system, is now advocating for more limits.

“We’re not going to be ripping children from mother’s arms and separating families and caging children, but we are going to bring order to the border,” said Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat whose district includes Brownsville.

During his visit, Biden’s motorcade drove along a roughly 20-foot-high barrier on the U.S. side of the border. Some onlookers waved Trump 2024 flags and one held a handwritten sign that read, “No Mas Joe”—“No More Joe” in Spanish.

The initial phase of the president’s visit was low key: He wore a blue baseball cap and could be seen talking with border officials while looking out toward the river that divides the U.S. from Mexico. He also got a briefing from officials at the Brownsville Border Patrol Station.

The visit comes ahead of Biden’s March 7 State of the Union address and as the White House weighs unilateral measures it can take to stem illegal border crossings. One of the main ideas under consideration is blocking migrants who cross the border illegally from claiming asylum, allowing them to be quickly deported back to Mexico or their home countries. 

Any executive action would face legal hurdles. Trump sought to enact a nearly identical ban in 2018 but was blocked by a federal court that said it was a violation of asylum laws, which allow people to ask for humanitarian protection no matter how they enter the country.

Likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaking with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott during his border visit Thursday. PHOTO: GO NAKAMURA/REUTERS
Likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaking with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott during his border visit Thursday. PHOTO: GO NAKAMURA/REUTERS
 President Biden talking with U.S. Border Patrol officers along the Rio Grande on Thursday. PHOTO: EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Biden talking with U.S. Border Patrol officers along the Rio Grande on Thursday. PHOTO: EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Toward the end of his remarks, Biden directly addressed Trump, asking him to put aside his political differences and back the bipartisan border deal in Washington. “Instead of playing politics with this issue, instead of telling members of Congress to block this legislation—join me,” Biden said. “Why don’t we just get together and get it done?”

Hundreds of miles to the northwest, Trump shook hands with state troopers and members of the National Guard shortly after arriving in Eagle Pass. The former president walked to the end of a short row of shipping containers before heading down toward the riverbank accompanied by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Trump said he spoke to the parents of Laken Riley, a Georgia college student who last week was allegedly killed by a migrant from Venezuela, and blamed Biden for her death.

A small crowd of Trump supporters, many of them Latino, wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats gathered at the corners of an Eagle Pass intersection lined with clothing, flower and discount stores near the park. They were joined by a group of five anti-Trump, mostly white protestors whose yells were quickly overpowered by the Trump supporters who chanted, “Go back home.”

Trump and other conservative politicians hold up high-profile crimes committed by migrants who are in the country without authorization as reasons for tougher immigration enforcement. Decades of research have found that immigrants are less likely than native-born Americans to commit crimes and that neighborhoods with greater concentrations of immigrants have lower rates of crime and violence.

Shelby Park is the site of one of several disputes between Texas and the federal government about which of them has the authority to patrol the border.

Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an emergency declaration announcing that the state would take custody of the city-owned park and blocked Border Patrol from accessing a 2.5-mile stretch of the border including a boat ramp that agents use to launch patrols on the Rio Grande. Abbott has repeatedly accused the Biden administration of not doing enough to prevent illegal border crossings and said the state is trying to show force. 


Congress has spent decades attempting and failing to pass bipartisan legislation on immigration and border security. How the latest border bill fell apart even before it reached the Senate floor, and what it means in an election year. Photo Illustration: Annie Zhao

The Department of Homeland Security made an emergency filing with the Supreme Court over access to the border as part of a case Texas filed against the federal government that accused agents of cutting through razor wire the state placed along the border. 

After a woman and two children died in the area near the park’s boat ramp last month, Texas gave Border Patrol access to it with restrictions. At the time, Texas reiterated that the access to the park was limited to using the boat ramp, according to the filing asking the Supreme Court to intervene.

In a 5-4 ruling last month, the Supreme Court vacated a lower court injunction preventing the Border Patrol from cutting the razor wire. The order didn’t require Texas to give the federal government access to remove it and the state has continued to maintain custody of the park.

Even though the Supreme Court has ruled as recently as 2012 that the federal government, not states, has exclusive authority to enforce immigration laws, the issue could be revisited by a more conservative court as this fight between Texas and the Biden administration continues.

On Thursday, a federal judge dealt a blow to Texas’ bid for supremacy over immigration enforcement when he blocked a new law that would allow the state to deport migrants, finding that it is unconstitutional and violates the federal government’s sole immigration authority.

The attacks Biden faces aren’t just from Trump and other Republicans. Biden has been under pressure from both progressive and moderate members of his party. 

Alex Leary contributed to this article.

Write to Tarini Parti at tarini.parti@wsj.com, Adolfo Flores at adolfo.flores@wsj.com and Annie Linskey at annie.linskey@wsj.com

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