Ahead of Biden and Trump's dueling visits, what's the situation at the Texas border?

Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott is in a standoff with the White House over control.

February 29, 2024, 5:04 AM

As President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump both visit the southern border Thursday to highlight the pressing immigration problem heading into the election, the number of migrants crossing into the U.S. has actually declined in recent weeks, in line with past seasonal trends.

The U.S. Border Patrol apprehended migrants about half as many times in January compared to a record-setting quarter million apprehensions in December. But with warmer spring months ahead, the relatively low numbers of migrants may climb again.

In this Feb. 1, 2024 file photo, immigrants run toward the U.S.-Mexico border wall after crossing the Rio Grande into El Paso, Texas.
John Moore/Getty Images, FILE

Brownsville, Texas, where President Biden is headed, has seen a relatively small number of migrants entering and numbers decrease since the start of the year. At the same time, Eagle Pass, Texas, where Trump is headed, has been a hot spot where migrant encounters have reached record levels.

The Biden administration has attempted to strike a balance by restricting asylum – the most common form of humanitarian relief – for some while opening new legal options for other migrants. The approach has faced blow-back from both the left and the right.

The White House said Biden would meet with Border Patrol agents, law enforcement officials, frontline personnel and local leaders and would call on Congress to pass the bipartisan border deal negotiated by the Senate, that's said Republicans have rejected that because of politics -- at Donald Trump's direction.

President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with law enforcement officials in the State Dining Room of the White House, Feb. 28, 2024, in Washington.
Andrew Harnik/AP

"Biden is going to the border now solely to try to save himself," National Border Patrol Counsel President Brandon Judd said in a statement. "Border security should never be about politics, it should always be about the safety and security of this great nation and the American people."

Judd and the Border Patrol union have previously endorsed Trump and his hard-line approach to border security. While many of his efforts were blocked in court, Trump still favors pressuring Mexico into accepting U.S. asylum seekers and building a "wall" to keep migrants out.

Amid all this, the Biden administration and the state of Texas are engaged in a high-stakes standoff over access to a park on the border -- Shelby Park in Eagle Pass.

Former President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Feb. 24, 2024, in National Harbor, Md.
Tom Brenner for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott, accusing the Biden administration of failing to secure the border, has surged the Texas National Guard to the border and Trump is expected to meet with Texas state officials, casting a spotlight on the state-federal dispute.

Abbott and other GOP governors maintain the U.S. Constitution gives them a right of "self-defense" to protect against "invasion" -- in this case, they argue, migrants.

In the past few days, Abbott has ordered construction of permanent military base near Eagle Pass, big enough to support 2,300 state troops.

"As opposed to being scattered around many different places across this region, they will be operating out of one place. It will amass a large army in a very strategic area. It will increase the speed and flexibility of the Texas National Guard to be able to respond to crossings," Abbott said at a news conference.

In this Sept. 27, 2023, file photo, U.S. Border Patrol agents cut an opening through razor wire after immigrant families crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico, in Eagle Pass, Texas.
John Moore/Getty Images, FILE

The Biden administration has contended Texas' actions along the border are unnecessary and violate the Constitution, arguing it gives the power to control immigration solely to the federal government.

Federal authorities said they needed to cut down razor wire Abbott ordered placed along the banks of the Rio Grande to stop migrants in order to help those in distress.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott attends the press conference about border security, joined by 13 governors from different states, at Shelby Park, in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Feb. 4, 2024.
Go Nakamura/Reuters, FILE

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for federal agents to cut the wire in such circumstances, but they have been blocked from doing so and Abbott has ordered even more be installed in areas he says are particularly vulnerable to illegal crossings.

More than a dozen states including Florida, Indiana and Virginia have sent state guardsmen to the border, all of them from Republican-led states.

"Our reinforcements will help Texas to add additional barriers, including razor wire along the border. We don't have a country if we don't have a border," Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a statement on Feb. 1.