Biden and Trump pay visits to Texas-Mexico border as immigration emerges as defining election issue

Presidential rivals focus on topic that has gripped the American imagination

Three hundred miles and an ideological chasm separated president Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump on Thursday afternoon as they made separate visits to key immigration crossing points along the Texas-Mexico border.

Biden delivered a message which fell between invitation and ultimatum to his Republican rival.

“I understand my predecessor is in Eagle Pass today,” he said in an address at Brownsville.

Referring to Republicans recently blocking a bipartisan Senate Bill addressing the issue of immigration, he added: “So here is what I would say to Mr Trump. Set aside policy in Congress to block this legislation. Join me or I will join you in telling the Congress to pass this bipartisan border security bill. We can do it together. You know and I know that it is toughest, most efficient, most effective security bill that this country has ever seen. So, instead of playing politics with the issue why don’t we just get together and get it done. Let’s remember who the heck we work for. We work for the the American people.”


The ongoing issue of how to deal with the thousands of people daily making illegal, hazardous entries to the United States via the border is emerging as the defining issue of this year’s election as the current and former president lay the blame squarely at the opposition door. Mr Biden travelled to Brownsville on Air Force One on Thursday while Mr Trump arrived at Eagle’s Pass promising to take care of “a very dangerous border”.

Whether either politician would encounter any actual migrants was doubtful. The choice of Brownsville as a place was the subject of advance mystification, with Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, noting that illegal crossings in the Rio Grande Valley have greatly reduced. “Brownsville has never been a problem. President Biden is going to go to a location where there is nothing to see; he’s not going to be able to evaluate anything.”

Meanwhile, Mr Trump arrived at Eagle Pass, a flashpoint for the federal and state struggle to police the border.

Castigating the Biden administration for the breakdown of border control and portraying migrants in fearmongering language has been a recurring theme during Mr Trump’s campaign rallies. Thursday marked just the second visit to the border by Mr Biden and he reminded people that the Republican Party blocked the recent Senate bipartisan Bill, which contains sweeping measures, including a complete shutdown of the border if the number of illegal daily crossings exceeds 5,000, to deal with the problem.

“They did so simply because the former president told them to,” the White House principal deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton told reporters in a press huddle on Airforce One on Thursday.

“You heard president Biden say that he would take this deal to the American people and make sure they know who is about political rhetoric and who is about solutions. Today there is new polling out showing that Americans overwhelmingly support the bipartisan agreement.”

The peculiar spectacle of the bitterly opposed presidential rivals visiting the stretch of border during the same hours and the same day concentrated the focus on an issue that has gripped the American imagination. A new Gallup poll has found that potential voters believe immigration to be the most important issue facing America.

In a related development, a federal judge on Thursday blocked a new Texas state law that allows for the deportation of migrants, ruling it unconstitutional. The Texas Senate Bill 4 was passed last year as a priority measure of governor Greg Abbott and was set to come into effect in March.

“To allow Texas to permanently supersede federal directives on the basis of an invasion would amount to nullification of federal law and authority – a notion that is antithetical to the onstitution and has been unequivocally rejected by federal courts since the Civil War,” US district judge David Ezra wrote.

The Operation Lone Star Texas security programme has allocated $11 billion (€10.1 billion) to deal with the issue by deploying state troopers at border points, arresting migrants for trespassing and bussing them to northern cities. Mr Abbott, in a statement, said on Thursday that Texas will “immediately appeal this decision”. He added that “Texas has the right to defend itself because of President Biden’s ongoing failure to fulfil his duty to protect our state from the invasion at our southern border. Even from the bench, this District Judge acknowledged that this case will ultimately be decided by the US Supreme Court.”

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Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan

Keith Duggan is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times