Border visits by Biden, Trump set for Feb 29, immigration in focus

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are both planning trips to the U.S-Mexico border on Thursday, aiming to leverage the issue of immigration for their political strategies ahead of a potential rematch in the upcoming election.

Biden is scheduled to visit Brownsville, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, a region known for significant border crossings, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. This will mark his second visit to the border as president, following his trip to El Paso in January of last year. The president intends to meet with border agents and discuss the necessity for bipartisan legislation during his visit.

Meanwhile, Trump is set to travel to Eagle Pass, Texas, approximately 325 miles away from Brownsville, according to sources who spoke anonymously to The Associated Press. Eagle Pass is another area where tensions between state and federal authorities regarding border security are high.

Biden, speaking in New York on Monday, expressed surprise at learning about Trump’s planned visit, indicating that he had already intended to visit the border on Thursday. The announcement of Biden’s trip came after reports of Trump’s plans surfaced. However, Biden did not confirm whether he would meet with migrants during his visit.

These concurrent trips underscore the significance of immigration in the upcoming 2024 presidential race, with both Republicans and Democrats focusing on the issue, particularly after failed congressional negotiations on a border deal.

Biden has criticized Republicans for abandoning a bipartisan border agreement after Trump opposed measures to tighten asylum restrictions and impose daily limits on border crossings. Trump, on the other hand, has intensified his anti-immigrant rhetoric, alleging that migrants are a threat to Americans.

The surge in illegal border crossings over the years is attributed to various factors such as climate change, conflicts abroad, economic conditions, and the exploitation of migration by criminal organizations.

The administration has pursued a combination of border enforcement measures and expanded legal pathways for migrants, aiming to discourage illegal crossings while providing alternative routes for those seeking asylum. However, the outdated immigration system struggles to cope with the influx, with record-high numbers of migrants overwhelming capacity at the U.S-Mexico border. Although arrests for illegal crossings declined by half in January, they reached unprecedented levels in December.

Trump’s campaign alleges that Biden’s plan to visit the border signals his defensive stance on immigration, suggesting it poses a hurdle for his reelection bid. Karoline Leavitt, press secretary for Trump’s campaign, blames Biden for what she calls the “worst immigration crisis in history,” accusing him of following Trump’s lead.

Biden’s camp counters, placing the blame on House Republicans, particularly after Trump reportedly instructed GOP lawmakers to derail a bill aimed at funding border agents and other Homeland Security entities. While Biden continues to criticize Republican inaction, he’s contemplating executive measures to deter migrants. These measures may include utilizing Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, granting presidents wide authority to restrict entry for certain immigrants if it’s deemed detrimental to national interests.

However, any executive actions addressing border crossings are likely to face legal challenges without legislative changes. The White House has indicated to some Capitol Hill lawmakers that Biden won’t announce any executive orders on immigration during his border visit.

According to an AP-NORC poll, immigration concerns rose to 35% from 27% last year, with a majority of Republicans (55%) prioritizing immigration as a key issue for 2024, compared to 22% of Democrats. Trump is once again emphasizing immigration in his campaign, using images of migrant struggles as evidence of Biden’s failed policies.

During his 2016 campaign, Trump visited Laredo, Texas, garnering attention and support from the GOP base with his hardline stance on immigration. Since leaving office, he has visited the border twice, including receiving Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s endorsement.

In contrast, Biden has only visited the border once, focusing on inspecting Customs and Border Protection facilities and the border wall. Amid negotiations on the border bill, Biden suggested he might halt asylum processes if granted the authority, signaling a shift towards conservative immigration policies that concern some Democrats.

The failure of the border bill has prompted the Department of Homeland Security to reassess priorities and redistribute funds among its agencies, potentially leading to cuts in detention beds and deportation flights, resulting in more migrants being released into the U.S. upon arrival at the border.