Biden, Trump Try to Work Immigration to Their Political Advantage During Trips to Texas

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden and his likely Republican challenger Donald Trump both head to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas on Thursday in a sign of how central immigration has become to the 2024 election and how much both candidates want to use it to their advantage.

Each has chosen an optimal location from which to underscore his respective points.

Biden, who wants to spotlight how Republicans tanked a bipartisan border security deal on Trump's orders, will go to the Rio Grande Valley city of Brownsville. For nine years, this was the busiest corridor for illegal crossings, but illegal crossings there have dropped sharply in recent months.

Trump, for his part, wants to continue his attacks on Biden and keep up his dialed-up rhetoric after saying migrants were poisoning the blood of Americans. He will do so from Eagle Pass, roughly 325 miles northwest of Brownsville, in the corridor that's currently seeing the largest number of crossings. Trump is expected to speak from a state park that has become a Republican symbol of defiance against the federal government's immigration enforcement practices.

In other words, the split screen moment couldn't possibly be more split, and each candidate is asking voters to side with his approach to immigration.

Among voters, worries about the nation's broken immigration system are rising on both sides of the political divide, which could be especially problematic for Biden.

According to an AP-NORC poll in January, the share of voters concerned about immigration rose to 35% from 27% last year. Fifty-five percent of Republicans say the government needs to focus on immigration in 2024, while 22% of Democrats listed immigration as a priority. That's up from 45% and 14%, respectively, from December 2022.

The number of people who are illegally crossing the U.S. border has been rising for years for complicated reasons that include climate change, war and unrest in other nations, the economy, and cartels that see migration as a cash cow.

The administration's approach has been to pair crackdowns at the border with increasing legal pathways for migrants designed to steer people into arriving by plane with sponsors, not illegally on foot to the border.

Arrests for illegal crossings fell by half in January, but there were record highs in December. The numbers of migrants flowing across the U.S-Mexico border have far outpaced the capacity of an immigration system that has not been substantially updated in decades. Trump and Republicans claim Biden is refusing to act, but absent law change from Congress, any major policies are likely to be challenged or held up in court.

Trump this week said Biden was copying him by heading to the border, although the White House insisted the president's trip was quietly in the works before Trump's visit was announced.

"I finally found a way to get him down to the border," said Trump, who is again making immigration a centerpiece of his campaign. "We let it out that we're going on Thursday ... and all of a sudden, out of the blue, he announced he's going."

Unlike Trump, Biden has made few trips to the border. Since the president was last at the border a year ago, the debate over immigration in Washington has shifted further to the right. Democrats have become increasingly eager to embrace border restrictions now that migrants are sleeping in police stations and airplane hangars in major cities.

During bipartisan talks on an immigration deal that would have toughened access for migrants, Biden himself said he'd be willing to "shut down the border" right now, should the deal pass.

The talks looked promising for a while. But Trump, who didn't want to give Biden a political win on one of his signature campaign issues, convinced Republicans to kill the deal. House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., declared the deal dead on arrival.

Biden vowed to make sure everyone knew why.

"Every day, between now and November, the American people are gonna know that the only reason the border is not secure is Donald Trump and his MAGA Republican friends," Biden said earlier this month, referring to the former president's Make America Great Again slogan.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the president would meet with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, law enforcement officials, frontline personnel and local leaders during his trip to Texas.

Trump will speak from Shelby Park, an expanse along the Rio Grande owned by the city of Eagle Pass. It was taken over last month by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who then banned Border Patrol agents from operating there. The Biden administration sued, and the U.S. Supreme Court allowed federal agents to cut the razor wire encircling the park, but Abbott has since put more up in a defiant move that challenges federal authority.

While there, Trump is expected to lay out updated immigration proposals that would mark a dramatic escalation of the approach he used in office and that drew alarms from civil rights activists and numerous court challenges.

Some of those include reviving and expanding his controversial travel ban, imposing "ideological screening" for migrants, terminating all work permits and cutting off funding for shelter and transportation for people who are in the country illegally. He's also likely to bring up the killing of a 22-year-old nursing student in Georgia. The suspect is a Venezuelan migrant.

"The country can't survive this much longer," Trump said this week on Michigan's WFDF (910 AM), calling the suspect in the woman's death "an animal."

Trump claimed things were far better during his presidency and now "you have the worst border in history and the whole country's falling apart, and criminals are moving into our country by the millions. And I'll get it all stopped and I'll get it done fast."