Biden announces surprise trip to the US-Mexico border on the same day as Trump

The two presidential hopefuls will both visit Texas on Thursday, a sign of how important the immigration debate has become in this campaign

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks with border patrol officers as he walks along the border fence during his visit to the U.S.-Mexico border to assess border enforcement operations, in El Paso, Texas, U.S., January 8, 2023.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks with border patrol officers as he walks along the border fence during his visit to the U.S.-Mexico border to assess border enforcement operations, in El Paso, Texas, U.S., January 8, 2023.KEVIN LAMARQUE (REUTERS)
Miguel Jiménez

Immigration has displaced the economy as the star issue of the political battle between Republicans and Democrats. Just over eight months before the 2024 presidential election, the two likely presidential candidates will both travel to the U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday. Former president Donald Trump will go to Eagle Pass, Texas, to denounce the so-called “invasion” of immigrants, while U.S. President Joe Biden will be in Brownsville, Texas, just 310 miles away, to accuse Republicans of blocking his border security proposals in order to blame him for the immigration crisis.

This will be Biden’s second visit to the border as president, after last year’s trip to El Paso in January. The White House announced the visit on Monday after it released its weekly agenda on Sunday, which did not include the trip to Brownsville. The news came after Trump’s visit was announced, but Biden said the fact that they will be at the border on the same day is just a coincidence. “I’ve been planning to go Thursday. What I didn’t know is my good friend apparently is going,” he said, referring to Trump, when asked in an ice cream parlor in New York where he stopped this Monday after giving a television interview.

“On Thursday, as you all know, President Biden will travel to Brownsville, Texas, to meet with U.S. Border Patrol agents, law enforcement, and local leaders,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Monday. “He will discuss the urgent need to pass the Senate bipartisan border security agreement, the toughest and fairest set of reforms to secure the border in decades.” Brownsville is one of the areas that has seen the largest number of irregular border crossings.

Under pressure from Trump, Republican lawmakers derailed Biden’s border security deal, which included aid to Ukraine and Israel, as well as reforms to curb illegal immigration on the U.S.-Mexico border, which has seen record highs under Biden’s presidency. Republicans demanded the border measures in exchange for approving aid to Ukraine and Israel, but in the end, the party opted to reject the compromise and use the situation at the border as a weapon to sway voters.

In view of this, Biden “will reiterate his calls for congressional Republicans to stop playing politics and to provide the funding needed for additional U.S. Border Patrol agents, more asylum officers, fentanyl detection technology, and more,” said Jean-Pierre on Monday.

Biden is considering an executive order that would facilitate deportations and make it more difficult for migrants to cross into the United States. When asked about these plans, the White House press secretary did not want to provide any more details. “I don’t have anything to share at this time. We’ll have more to share as we get closer to Thursday,” she said.

One of the measures being considered by Biden’s team is to invoke powers under Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Law, which gives the president broad leeway to block certain immigrants if their entry is considered “detrimental” to national interest. But if the law is not changed, any executive order against border crossings will likely be challenged in court.

When Trump was president, he repeatedly used Section 212(f). It was invoked, for example, in Trump’s controversial travel ban on visitors from Muslim-majority countries — a rule that Biden scrapped as soon as he took office. Now Biden is analyzing whether it can be applied in situations where the number of illegal crossings exceeds a certain threshold, in line with a provision included in the ill-fated border security plan. Under this rule, the southern border would be closed to migrants if the number of illegal border crossings reached above 5,000 daily for a five-day average.

Jean-Pierre insisted on Monday that no executive order will be able to achieve what Biden’s bipartisan security deal could have achieved, if Trump had not put an end to it. “We think that Republicans should get out of the way, not politicize this. This is an issue that the American people — the majority of American people care about,” she said. The Democrats are trying to sling back the Republicans’ accusations regarding the border and immigration. “It was the toughest and the fairest agreement that we have seen. And if it had been put into law, it would have made a difference,” said Jean-Pierre.

The White House press secretary said that Biden is going to listen directly to Border Patrol agents, but she did not want to clarify whether he will also meet with immigrants. These agents, she said, “have been doing everything that they can to secure the border with the resources that they have,” but “they need more.”

Biden’s policy of trying to open legal pathways for orderly migration to the United States while cracking down on illegal pathways has not stopped the flow of undocumented immigrants into the country. Current legislation allows immigrants to request asylum regardless of how they entered the United States. And they have arrived in such large numbers that the country’s underfunded immigration system is unable to cope, meaning it takes years for asylum cases to be heard.

Arrests for illegal crossings fell by half in January, but December saw all-time highs.

Trump, who made immigration the focus of his campaign in the 2016 elections, will travel on Thursday to Eagle Pass, where the federal U.S. government and Texas state authorities are in the midst of a fierce battle over immigration controls. This same month, a caravan of Trump supporters visited the city in support of Texas Governor Gregg Abott, who has defied Washington in his efforts to wrest immigration control from federal authorities.

Trump repeatedly criticizes immigrants at his campaign rallies, often resorting to fake news. “They’re coming from Asia, they’re coming from the Middle East, coming from all over the world, coming from Africa,” he said. “They’re killing our people. They’re killing our country. We have no choice,” he added at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

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