Biden reaches out to Trump on immigration from the border, but the former president counters: ‘This is like a war’

While visiting the U.S.-Mexico border, the Democratic president invited his political rival to join forces on the immigration crisis, but the Republican ex-president spoke of a ‘Biden invasion’

President Joe Biden talks with the U.S. Border Patrol  in Brownsville, Texas
President Joe Biden talks with the U.S. Border Patrol, as he looks over the southern border, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Brownsville, Texas, along the Rio Grande.Evan Vucci (AP)
Miguel Jiménez

U.S. President Joe Biden was photographed on Thursday in front of the Rio Grande with members of the border patrol in Brownsville, Texas. At the same time, his likely rival in the November presidential elections, Donald Trump, posed at the wire fence on the banks of the same river in Eagle Pass, also in Texas, some 310 miles away. The politicians’ gestures have been similar, but their discourse has been very different. While Biden has offered his rival unity on immigration policy, the latter spoke of an “invasion,” “men of fighting age” who arrive looking like “warriors.” “This is like a war,” he declared.

Biden conferred with border patrol and immigration services representatives before giving a speech in which he was conciliatory and asked the former president, Donald Trump, to support the bill in which Republicans and Democrats agreed to increase border security. “The bipartisan border security deal is a win for the American people,” Biden said, highlighting that it would give him the ability to temporarily “shut down the border,” something that would be activated when illegal crossings surpass a certain number.

“Folks, it’s really simple. It’s time to act. It’s long past time to act,” Biden said in his speech. “They desperately need more resources,” he said in the Border Patrol station in Brownsville, surrounded by about 50 agents. He spoke about agents working overtime, “making major sacrifices,” over the last four years. “It’s time to step up and provide them with significantly more personnel and capability. We also need more immigration judges to help handle the backlog” of 2 million cases, he added.

Border Patrol agents listen to Biden's speech Feb. 29 at the Brownsville station.
Border Patrol agents listen to Biden's speech Feb. 29 at the Brownsville station.Evan Vucci (AP)

“This bill was in the United States Senate, was on its way to being passed, and then was derailed by rank and file, partisan politics,” the president said. And then he addressed Trump directly: “We can do it together. You know, and I know it’s the toughest, most efficient, most effective border security bill this country has ever seen. Instead of playing politics with the issue, why don’t we just get together and get it done.”

For his part, Trump did not mince words in Eagle Pass. He gave an inflammatory speech, full of lies and xenophobic messages, with echoes of the extreme right, as he is accustomed to. In his rhetoric, immigrants have come out of prisons and mental asylums: “These are the people that are coming into our country, and they’re coming from jails and they’re coming from prisons and they’re coming from mental institution and they’re coming from insane asylums and they’re terrorists. They’re being led into our country. And it’s horrible,” the Republican said. “The United States is being overrun by the Biden migrant crime. It’s a new form of vicious violation to our country. It’s migrant crime. We call it Biden migrant crime, but that’s a little bit long,” he added, pinning the blame on the current administration.

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump visits the U.S.-Mexico border at Eagle Pass, Texas, as seen from Piedras Negras, Mexico, February 29, 2024
Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump visits the U.S.-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas, as seen from Piedras Negras, Mexico.Go Nakamura (REUTERS)

He also repeated some of his nonsensical arguments, such as the claim that the immigrants who are arriving speak languages that have never been heard before in the United States. “We didn’t even have one translator who could understand this language,” he claimed. In reality, the vast majority of immigrants are Latin Americans (mostly Venezuelans) who speak Spanish, a language that is widely used in Eagle Pass and Brownsville as well as in many other parts of the United States. The former president has promised, if re-elected to the White House, the largest deportation of illegal migrants.

This was Biden’s second visit to the border as president; he previously visited El Paso in January of last year. Trump’s machinations derailed a bill that included aid for Ukraine and Israel, as well as reforms to curb illegal immigration at the border with Mexico, which has broken records during Biden’s presidency. The border measures were a Republican demand in exchange for approving aid to Ukraine and Israel, but when it came down to it, they preferred to step back and continue using migration as an electoral weapon.

Legal migration

Biden’s policy of trying to open legal channels for orderly migration to the United States while stiffening penalties against illegal entry has not stemmed the flow of undocumented immigrants to the United States. The legislation allows immigrants to apply for asylum regardless of how they arrive, and they have arrived in such numbers that they overwhelm the capacity of the underfunded immigration system. This effectively allows immigrants to settle in the United States while their cases are delayed for years.

On Thursday, dozens of immigrants waited at Xeriscape Park in Brownsville, just across the border from Mexico. Those who are gathered there have managed to reach the United States with papers, whether for family reunification or other reasons. For many of them, arriving has been an odyssey of several months. José Antonio Romero, a 19-year-old Venezuelan from Mérida, is waiting for some friends who have not been able to cross yet. He wants to say goodbye to them before heading to Oceano, California. “I want to see my brother and work,” he explains.

Another Venezuelan woman speaks to her relatives loudly via videoconference: “We arrived,” she tells them. She is euphoric. Ricardo, a 22-year-old Venezuelan, and Patrix, a 19-year-old Peruvian, are also excited. They are a couple and after crossing the border they are heading to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where his mother is. Ricardo, who started his trip in October, had to cross the Darién Gap: “It was pretty tough, there’s a lot of danger, you have to climb, climb mountains, cross the river several times, but since I am young it was easier for me. There is the natural risk but also the risk of being attacked and robbed.”

“The hardest thing was getting through Mexico,” says Patrix, “because from the moment we enter, it’s very difficult to go up to Mexico City to ask for an appointment. They don’t let us get on the buses, we have to do everything by foot, they make us pay to go from town to town. There are kidnappings, robberies; many things happen, but they are not talked about much,” she says.

The Venezuelans who have crossed the border arrived through the legal channels opened by the Biden administration. They arrive with an initial two-year work permit. The idea is to open these pathways somewhat and to make irregular entries more difficult, to discourage them. The theory sounds good, but in practice the legal channels have not eased the pressure on the border.

Brownsville is no longer one of the hotspots for illegal crossings. On Thursday, a tour along the river around the city — which faces Matamoro on the other side of the border — showed areas protected with barbed wire fences and ample border patrols. That area is the one the president toured to receive information from the teams working on the ground and to whom he promised Thursday an effort to provide them with more means.

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