Trump, Biden Face Off in Border Showdown

The two presidents toured different border towns and gave two different messages on who was to blame for the illegal immigration crisis.
Trump, Biden Face Off in Border Showdown
Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump talks with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott during a visit to the U.S.–Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Feb. 29, 2024. (Eric Gay/AP Photo)
Samantha Flom
Janice Hisle
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. He told The Epoch Times that his medic crews are often dispatched to take care of illegal immigrants who are ill or injured.

Many of these people are males, aged 18 to 40, without women or children with them. That makes him wonder about their motives.

Mr. Mello said he is also concerned about whether some of the children who come across the border actually belong to the adults who are accompanying them. He believes they “aren’t really families,” although they claim to be.

The chief said the crisis has taken a significant toll on his crews and on the community, and “there’s no end in sight.”

But he’s hopeful that the increased attention President Trump’s visit garners could help bring about needed changes. He and other employees of the city’s fire headquarters, located on a main thoroughfare, emptied out of the building to watch the former president’s motorcade pass.

When asked if he had a message for the two leading presidential candidates who were visiting border cities, Mr. Mello responded: “To Trump, if he becomes president again, I think my message to him would be: ‘Work on a bipartisan immigration reform that would update our asylum laws.’”

He said current laws do not hold people accountable for crossing the border illegally, for bringing children into that situation, and for risking the lives of the crews who come to the aid of those who need to be rescued from the Rio Grande River.

“To Biden, I would probably say he needs to stop this madness,” the chief said.

Biden Urges Passage of Senate Border Bill

As President Trump delivered his remarks, officials in the Democratic stronghold of Brownsville, roughly 300 miles away, were briefing President Biden on the situation there.
The visit marked only the second of his presidency, during which the United States has experienced historic levels of illegal immigration.

Once a hotspot for illegal immigration, the Rio Grande Valley has experienced a significant decline in border crossings in recent years, with traffic shifting 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, which ties $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. Although a condensed version of the bill, which omitted the border measures, passed the Senate, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) declared it “dead on arrival” in the House. Republicans and President Trump criticized the border measures as not being tough enough to curb 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.”

President Biden said the bill is “the toughest, most efficient, most effective border security bill” the country has ever seen. “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 illegal immigration at the Brownsville Station during a visit to the U.S.–Mexico border in Texas, on Feb. 29, 2024. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)
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 illegal immigration at the Brownsville Station during a visit to the U.S.–Mexico border in 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 the Texas 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.”

Supporters Confronted in Eagle Pass

Supporters of the former president lined many streets of the downtown area, which police had cordoned off, some waving Trump flags and “Latinos for Trump” placards.

Ruben Camarillo, 35, told The Epoch Times that he was excited that “our community gets to come and experience President Trump coming in and checking on the community and seeing firsthand what it’s like with the border crisis.”

Mr. Camarillo said people had been waiting for hours before the former president was expected for his appearance at Shelby Park, the epicenter of Texas’ standoff with federal authorities over their conflicting approaches to border security.

The gathering had been peaceful, with no sign of counter-protesters, he said, from at least 11 a.m. until around 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, when about a half-dozen people wearing black clothing showed up. They held a banner that proclaimed, in Spanish, that America doesn’t face an immigration crisis but instead suffers from an “imperialism” problem. Mr. Camarillo said he didn’t recognize these people and believed they had come from out of town to agitate President Trump’s supporters.

A white-haired gentleman holding a paper began shouting, but neither Mr. Camarillo nor a reporter could decipher his words. He then held up an American flag and began to tear it apart, an act that incensed a crowd of onlookers. One woman exclaimed, “That’s not right!” while others shouted “Traitor!”

Police intervened to block a couple of indignant Trump supporters who headed toward the flag-destroying man. The crowd began chanting for the protesters to “go back home.” But that chant morphed back to “Donald Trump! Donald Trump!”

Mr. Camarillo, who wore a Trump mugshot T-shirt and a red MAGA (Make America Great Again) ball cap, said he hopes that the presidential candidate’s border visit “will open some more eyes.”

He said, “It’s pretty much putting us in the spotlight and letting everybody know that, hey, this is a crisis. This isn’t just some kind of political stunt.”

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 (formerly Twitter), the group wrote, “Attention President Biden: Keep our name out of your mouth today.”

In case that message wasn’t clear enough, the Border Patrol Union’s 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 Democrat, 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.
Samantha Flom is a reporter for The Epoch Times covering U.S. politics and news. A graduate of Syracuse University, she has a background in journalism and nonprofit communications. Contact her at [email protected].
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