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Biden urges Trump to help him pass immigration deal as both visit US border

<span>Migrants at border crossing in Eagle Pass, Texas, ahead of the anticipated visit by Donald Trump on Thursday.</span><span>Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images</span>
Migrants at border crossing in Eagle Pass, Texas, ahead of the anticipated visit by Donald Trump on Thursday.Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

Joe Biden and his all-but certain Republican challenger, Donald Trump, made dueling visits to Texas border towns on Thursday, a rare overlap that sets the stage for an election-season clash over immigration.

In Brownsville, along the Rio Grande on the border with Mexico, Biden implored Congressional Republicans to “show a little spine” and support a bipartisan border security deal. Earlier this month Republican lawmakers blocked legislation they had previously clamored for, after Trump expressed his opposition to the measure.

“It’s long past time to act,” Biden said in his remarks, challenging Trump to “join me” in calling on Congress to pass the “toughest, most efficient, most effective border security in this country has ever seen”.

There had been some speculation that the US president could announce executive action during his visit, but instead he revisited complaints that lack of progress is the fault of hard-right Republicans in Congress.

Related: ‘There is no crisis’: Biden will find calm not chaos at Texas border visit

Hundreds of miles north-west of Brownsville, Trump, whom Republicans appear poised to choose as their nominee for president for a third consecutive time, once again sought to stoke fears of a “migrant crime” wave fueled by Biden’s border policies.

“He’s destroying our country,” Trump said, speaking moments before Biden from a park in Eagle Pass which has become the center of a showdown between the Biden administration and the Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott.

While there, Trump promised an immigration crackdown far beyond what he attempted in his first term, vowing to revive immigration policies that would allow for rapid removal of people entering the US without authorization, while promoting his signature border barrier.

“Walls work,” Trump said. Last year, the Biden administration cleared the way for construction of the border barriers to continue, breaking a campaign promise not to allow “another foot” of work on the wall.

Immigration has become one of Biden’s most acute political vulnerabilities ahead of the 2024 election. Ahead of his remarks in Brownsville, which is among the border cities with the lowest level of unlawful crossings, Biden met with US border patrol agents, law enforcement and local leaders, praising their work and appealing to Congress for more resources to support them.

Since Biden took office, a record number of migrants have crossed the southern border, driven by war, political upheaval, gang violence and the climate crisis among other factors. Though the number of crossings dropped dramatically in January, according to border patrol data, there were record highs in December.

Voters across the political spectrum have expressed growing concern over the situation at the border, and few, as little as 18% according to a survey by the Pew Research center, are pleased with the administration’s handling of it.

In the survey, respondents most frequently cited “economic costs and burdens associated with the migration surge or concerns about security” as their top concerns related to migration.

At the same time, a rise in immigration last year powered population growth and boosted the US economy.

Trump’s immigration plans include a pledge to carry out the “largest deportation operation” in US history, suggesting he would call up the National Guard to remove undocumented migrants already in the country, a proposal that raises a thicket of legal questions about the use of the US military to enforce domestic laws.

As president, Biden has sought to clamp down on unlawful migration by toughening enforcement and making limited expansion of legal pathways into the US.

The White House threw its support behind a Senate effort to strike a compromise deal on the border, even endorsing an overhaul of the nation’s asylum system that immigration advocates and progressives denounced as Trump-like. But the deal fell apart amid Trump’s desire not to hand a political win to Biden on a key issue for his campaign. In the Senate, Republicans turned against the bill while Republican House speaker, Mike Johnson, declared it dead on arrival in his chamber.

Biden has vowed to remind voters of Trump’s interference.

Republicans, led by Trump, have blamed Biden. In Congress, they have sought to punish his administration by impeaching the secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, over alleged offenses that even conservative legal scholars said were related to matters of policy, not malfeasance. The Democratic-controlled Senate has signaled its intent to quickly dispatch the charges.

Hours before the president and former president arrived on the 2,000-mile stretch of border, a federal judge sided with the Biden administration and blocked a sweeping new Texas law that would give state and local police power to arrest migrants suspected of crossing the US-Mexico border unlawfully. In a statement, Abbott said Texas would “immediately” appeal the ruling, and asserted that the state had a “right to defend itself” from what he has previously described as an invasion – a term which elicited skepticism and ultimately rejection from the judge in the case.

In January, the Texas national guard seized control of Eagle Pass’s Shelby Park, in effect blocking federal border patrol agents from the 47-acre area. As part of Abbott’s border crackdown, they erected razor wire and closed access to the park. Amid the standoff, a mother and her two young children drowned in a nearby part of the Rio Grande. Texas authorities and the border patrol blamed each other for the tragedy.

The supreme court temporarily allowed border patrol agents to remove the wire erected by Texas authorities, but state law enforcement simply adds more.

Abbott, who joined Trump in Eagle Pass, reiterated that Biden “does not care about Texas or the border”.