Trump and Biden trade barbs on rival US-Mexico border visits

(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on February 08, 2024 shows
(FILES) US President Joe Biden speaking during a campaign rally at Pearson Community Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, on February 4, 2024; and (FILES) Republican presidential hopeful and former US President Donald Trump speaking at a campaign event in Concord, New Hampshire, on January 19, 2024. – Joe Biden and Donald Trump traded blame for America’s immigration crisis as they made dueling visits to the US-Mexican border Thursday, putting the hot-button issue at the heart of their race for the White House in November. (Photo by SAUL LOEB and TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)

EAGLE PASS, United States (AFP)
– Joe Biden and Donald Trump traded blame for America’s immigration crisis as they made dueling visits to the US-Mexican border Thursday, putting the hot-button issue at the heart of their race for the White House in November.

In near-simultaneous speeches in Texas, Republican former president Trump called the record numbers of border crossings a “Joe Biden invasion” — while the Democratic incumbent urged his rival to stop “playing politics” with proposed migration reforms.

The split-screen moment highlighted what could be a make-or-break issue in the presidential election less than eight months away, with polls showing most voters blame Biden for the unprecedented number of illegal entries.

Hoping his long history of anti-immigration rhetoric can deliver an extraordinary White House comeback, 77-year-old Trump painted a dark picture of Americans “kidnapped”, “raped” and “savagely murdered” by migrants.

“Joe Biden is responsible for this invasion,” Trump raged during his speech in Eagle Pass, Texas, speaking alongside the state’s hardline Republican Governor Greg Abbott.

The choice of Eagle Pass was symbolic, as Abbott has taken military control of an area there along the Rio Grande river that marks the border, sparking a standoff with the US federal government.

– ‘Playing politics’ –

Meanwhile Biden — making just his second border trip since taking office in 2021 — met border patrol agents and other law enforcement officials in Brownsville, Texas, about 300 miles (480 kilometers) to the east of Trump.

Migration is 81-year-old Biden’s biggest political weak spot apart from his age, with Republicans blaming Biden’s policies favoring the right to asylum for the flow of migrants.

But Biden is trying to turn the issue back on Trump by accusing him of sabotaging efforts to pass a bipartisan immigration bill that would give border forces more staff and money.

“Here’s what I would say to Mr Trump,” Biden said. “Instead of playing politics with this issue, instead of telling members of Congress to block this legislation — join me.”

Dressed in a jacket and baseball cap, Biden earlier walked with border patrol agents along the river, where a boat, trailer and other vehicles were gathered.

Biden was accompanied by his immigration chief Alejandro Mayorkas — who was impeached by Republicans just over two weeks ago in a sign of how divisive the issue has become.

Again the choice of location was significant: migrant crossings around Brownsville dipped by nearly a quarter in January, thanks partly to the Biden administration’s cooperation with Mexico.

– ‘Unhinged’ –

But more than 2.4 million migrants crossed the southern US border in 2023 alone, largely from Central America and Venezuela as they flee poverty, violence and disasters exacerbated by climate change.

For hard-right populist Trump, an anti-immigration stance has been central to his political identity for years, and he has pledged the biggest ever US deportation program if he returns to the White House.

Trump spent much of his 2017-2021 time in office pledging to complete a wall along the Mexican border, only a small part of which was built, although numbers of crossings were lower during his term.

This time around he has stepped up his rhetoric, accusing migrants of “poisoning the blood of our country”, in comments that Biden said were reminiscent of the Nazis.

Trump’s campaign described the current border as a “crime scene” and said the former president would “outline his plan to put America first and secure the border immediately upon taking office.”

Biden’s campaign described Trump’s speech as “unhinged.”

Polls show the issue is a weakness for Biden’s bid for a second term, with a survey by US broadcaster NBC showing Trump leading Biden by 30 points on the issue of immigration.

Biden insisted earlier this week that he hadn’t deliberately planned the clash of schedules with Trump, the man he beat in the 2020 election, saying he didn’t know his opponent was also going.