Biden, Trump headed for border clash with immigration in 2024 spotlight

Biden and Trump will be some 300 miles apart in Texas in dueling trips.

February 29, 2024, 5:05 AM

President Joe Biden and Donald Trump are both headed to the southern border Thursday, an election-year clash that spotlights an issue of top concern for most Americans.

Biden, taking a get-tougher offensive to fend off Republican attacks he hasn't done enough to control record migrant crossings, will meet with law enforcement officials and local leaders in Brownsville, Texas. There, he will again call on Congress to pass a bipartisan Senate border security and immigration reform bill -- dismissed by House Republicans after Trump objected that it would help Biden in November.

Some 300 miles away, Trump will spend the day in Eagle Pass, the epicenter of a standoff between the Biden White House and GOP governors over who controls the border -- as they send National Guard troops to stop migrant crossings.

The dueling visits come as increasing number of Americans name immigration as the most important problem facing the country, according to Gallup. The issue is a major political vulnerability for Biden: an ABC News survey last month found he had a low 18% approval rating for his handling of immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, which saw a record number of migrant encounters in December.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump.
President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump.
Getty Images/AP

Facing such headwinds, Biden officials worked with senators to negotiate the bipartisan proposal that would beef up immigration review teams, add Border Patrol agents, establish new emergency powers and changes to the asylum system. After the measure was rejected by GOP hard-liners, Biden is now said to be exploring potential executive action to tighten asylum restrictions -- to the dismay of the progressive wing of his party.

The president and his campaign are bashing Republicans for turning down the proposal they demanded last fall, accusing them of caving to Trump's whims and manufacturing a logjam for political gain.

"It would have helped this country to pass that bill, but Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans simply do not care, and that is the Republican position on immigration," Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a member of the Biden-Harris campaign's advisory board, said in a press call on Wednesday previewing Biden's border visit.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks with US Customs and Border Protection officers as he visits the US-Mexico border in El Paso, TX, Jan. 8, 2023.
President Joe Biden speaks with US Customs and Border Protection officers as he visits the US-Mexico border in El Paso, TX, Jan. 8, 2023.
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile, Republicans are casting Biden's visit to the border -- his second since being elected -- as political desperation and too little too late.

The Border Patrol union backed the bipartisan immigration bill, but its chief, Brandon Judd, blasted Biden's upcoming visit.

“Biden is going to the border now solely to try to save himself,” Judd said."Border security should never be about politics, it should always be about the safety and security of this great nation and the American people.”

Trump, his party's presumptive nominee, has long used immigration as a signature issue -- and is ratcheting up his anti-immigrant rhetoric. He’s painted a false picture that most migrants entering the U.S. are mentally ill, gang members or murderers being purposefully sent from their home countries to "destroy" America. His policy proposals, if elected, include using the military to round up millions of undocumented immigrants into deportation camps and ending birthright citizenship.

The recent murder of Laken Riley, a Georgia nursing student, has further stoked finger-pointing over immigration. The suspect in Riley's killing is Jose Ibarra, who was arrested in 2022 by U.S. Customs and Border Protection after unlawfully entering the country -- but then released.

Trump and other GOP leaders have said Riley's death -- what he calls "migrants crime" -- is a result of Biden's failed border policies. The White House on Monday expressed condolences to the family, calling the case "heartbreaking" but referring other questions to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and law enforcement.

Trump received a warm welcome from Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott during his last visit in November 2023, notching his endorsement, and is expected to meet with state officials on Thursday. Fox News' Sean Hannity will also be in Texas and will host Trump on his show.

PHOTO: Former President Donald Trump gives remarks with Texas Governor Greg Abbott in Edinburg, TX, Nov. 19, 2023.
Former President Donald Trump gives remarks with Texas Governor Greg Abbott in Edinburg, TX, Nov. 19, 2023.
Michael Gonzalez/Getty Images

The former president's campaign claimed last week that Biden was "chasing us to the border."

In Brownsville, which has experienced fewer migrant encounters than other parts of the border, the White House said the goal is for Biden hear from frontline personnel directly and to make clear his stance on immigration and the GOP roadblocks to getting it done.

“He is going because it's important for the American people to hear directly from him,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Wednesday. “He is going, because it's important to highlight that Republicans are getting in the way here.”

-ABC News' Quinn Owen, Libby Cathey, Gabrielle Abdul-Hakim and Fritz Farrow contributed to this report.