Trump, Biden Face Off in Border Showdown
Trump, Biden Face Off in Border Showdown

By Samantha Flom, Janice Hisle and Emel Akan

EAGLE PASS/BROWNSVILLE, Texas—Texas played host to a presidential showdown on Feb. 29 as President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump squared off at the southern border. It was the most direct showdown of this election season so far between the leading Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. And as each addressed the worsening situation at the U.S.–Mexico border, their messages couldn’t have been more different. “This is a Joe Biden invasion,” President Trump said after receiving a briefing from state officials in Eagle Pass. His choice of location was significant. The small border town along the Rio Grande has become a symbol of rebellion for Republicans since Texas Gov. Greg Abbott seized operational control of the riverfront in January in a defiant stand against the Biden administration’s immigration policies. Flanked by the governor, local law enforcement, and members of the Texas National Guard, President Trump said his successor was the “worst president our country has ever had.” “He’s allowing thousands and thousands of people to come in from China, Iran, Yemen, the Congo, Syria, and a lot of other nations—many nations are not very friendly to us,” he said. “He’s transported the entire columns of fighting-aged men and … they look like warriors to me. Something’s going on. It’s bad.” That’s a concern that the city’s fire chief, Manuel Mello III, shares. His medic crews are often dispatched to take care of border-crossers who are ill or injured; he and they notice that many of these people are males, ages 18-40, without women or children with them. That makes him wonder about their motives. Mr. Mello, in a lengthy interview with The Epoch Times, said he also is concerned whether the children who come across the border actually

Biden Urges Passage of Senate Border Bill

As President Trump delivered his remarks, officials roughly 300 miles away in the Democrat stronghold of Brownsville briefed President Biden on the situation there. The visit was just the second of his presidency, during which there have been historic levels of illegal immigration into the United States. Once a hot spot for illegal immigration, the Rio Grande Valley has seen a sharp drop-off in border crossings in recent years as traffic has shifted to other areas, such as Eagle Pass in the Del Rio sector and more recently the California border. While there, the president urged Congress to pass the Senate’s controversial border deal tying $20 billion in funds for U.S. immigration enforcement to $60.1 billion in aid for Ukraine, $14.1 billion for Israel, and $10 billion for humanitarian relief efforts. The measure passed the Senate, but House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) declared it “dead on arrival” in the House. Republicans and President Trump decried the border measures as not tough enough to cut the flow of illegal immigration. “I understand my predecessor is in Eagle Pass today,” President Biden said in remarks not long after President Trump’s speech. “Here’s what I would say to Mr. Trump: Instead of playing politics with this issue, instead of telling members of Congress to block this legislation, join me or I’ll join you in telling the Congress to pass this bipartisan border security bill.” “You know and I know it’s the toughest, most efficient, most effective border security bill this country has ever seen,” he said. “So instead of playing politics with the issue, why don’t we just get together and get it done? Unless you remember who the heck we work for, we work for the American people, not the Democratic party, the Republican Party, we work for the American people.”

President Joe Biden (C), flanked by Brownsville Mayor John Cowen (L), Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas (2nd L), and Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas), speaks about immigration at the Brownsville Station during a visit to the U.S.–Mexico border in Brownsville, Texas, on Feb. 29, 2024. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

The Biden administration has long held that the United States’ immigration system is “broken” and can be fixed only by new legislation from Congress. Republicans, including Texas’s governor, have said that the president has the power to fix the problem himself—he just doesn’t want to. “There are three laws that Congress has already passed that are on the books right now that Biden could and should enforce,“ Mr. Abbott said. ”One is a law that requires the Biden administration to deny illegal entry into the United States, like what Texas is doing right here and like what President Trump did.“ The second law, he said, requires the administration to detain anyone who enters the country illegally. “Biden is not detaining them,” he said. “He’s releasing them across the entire country.” And the third law “requires the Biden administration to build border barriers, like what Texas has built, like what President Trump has built,” and what President Biden has halted, he said. “Not a week goes by without an American either losing their life, being raped or assaulted by somebody that Biden has allowed in our country illegally,” Mr. Abbott said. “The fact of the matter is, because of Joe Biden’s policies, and the more than 8 million people who have crossed the border, the United States of America is being invaded.” The Senate’s border bill has been heavily criticized by Republicans for prioritizing the security of another country—Ukraine—over that of the United States. Others say that the border security provisions of the bill would do little to address the current chaos. “The border security [in the bill] was always fake,” Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) said on Feb. 23 at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. “I’ve heard from Democratic colleagues, I’ve heard from Democratic staffers who have said the Republican leadership in the Senate never pushed that hard for border security,” Mr. Vance said. “There was always this kind of wink-wink, ‘Well, we’ve got to go through the motions here. We’ve got to convince the conservative knuckle-draggers, like J.D. Vance, that we can care about border security, but we don’t really care about it that much.’ So, the American people got screwed in that deal.”

Political Implications

The two presidential visits came at a politically significant time, as early voting is underway in Texas for the state’s presidential primary election on March 5, also known as Super Tuesday. Aside from the Trump supporters who lined the streets in both Brownsville and Eagle Pass, one group that was notably displeased with President Biden’s presence was the Border Patrol Union. In a post on social media platform X, the group wrote, “Attention President Biden: Keep our name out of your mouth today.” In case that message wasn’t clear enough, Border Patrol Union President Brandon Judd joined President Trump in Eagle Pass to show his support for the presidential candidate. “Border Patrol agents are upset that we cannot get the proper policy that is necessary to protect human life, to protect American citizens, to protect the people that are crossing the border illegally. We want to protect them as well, and we can’t do that because President Biden’s policies continue to invite people across here,” Mr. Judd said. “Thank goodness we have a governor like Governor Abbott. Thank goodness we have somebody that’s willing to run for president of the United States, forgo everything else that he’s been doing, to serve the American people.” Border security has been a key fixture of President Trump’s platform since he first announced his candidacy for president in 2015. At the time, the issue was primarily cited by Republicans as one of their top concerns. Recent polling shows they’re no longer alone. A considerable majority (78 percent) of Americans now characterize the situation at the southern border as either a “crisis” (45 percent) or a “major problem” (32 percent), according to a mid-January survey conducted by Pew Research Center. Among Democrats and those who lean Democratic, 22 percent said the matter is a crisis, 44 percent said it’s a major problem, 26 percent said it’s a minor problem, and just 7 percent said it’s not a problem at all. Meanwhile, a whopping 80 percent of respondents said the government was doing a bad job handling the influx of illegal immigrants at the border—including 73 percent of Democrats.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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