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Biden-Trump border visits reflect how visible the immigration issue is in 2024

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Both President Biden and former President Donald Trump will visit the southern border in Texas today. Biden's visit reflects a more aggressive approach to one of his greatest political liabilities.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Every day between now and November, the American people are going to know that the only reason the border is not secure is Donald Trump and his MAGA Republican friends.

MARTÍNEZ: The split screen appearances also reflect how visible the border issue is in 2024, as more Americans tell pollsters immigration is the most important problem facing the U.S. in decades. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is covering the campaign. All right, so Biden and Trump are going to be a little over 300 miles away from each other in Texas. Let's start with President Biden, his second border visit - the first one January 23 in El Paso, part of a longer trip to Mexico for the North American Leaders' Summit. Franco, what's he hoping to accomplish on this trip?

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Yeah, A, Biden's going to visit Brownsville, Texas, where he's going to meet with Border Patrol agents and local leaders. I mean, what he wants to accomplish is to show that he's taking action on the border. You know, it's also actually part of this shift to the political center as he looks toward November. I mean, yesterday, he brought in police chiefs to talk about reducing crime, and today it's going to be immigration.

Now, on the border, you can expect Biden's going to attack House Republicans for blocking a deal that would've tightened rules for asylum and given more money to hire more border agents. And he's going to go after Trump as well. I mean, Biden says Trump is actually to blame for torpedoing that deal in order to score political points, or at least not to allow Biden to get any. I mean, what Biden's looking to do is kind of turn the tables on Republicans on this issue.

MARTÍNEZ: So I want to ask you about that. First, though, Trump's visit. He was near the border back in November, and he's made a handful of visits as president. What's his goal today?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, he has made a handful of visits. I mean, his objective is pretty simple. He wants to highlight the problems on the border, tie them to Biden's policies, and present himself as the only person who can fix them. Now, he's going to Eagle Pass, Texas, where the state has been trying to boost enforcement on its own. Trump's expected to, you know, highlight recent crimes committed by migrants in cities like New York.

And this week, he and his allies have been blaming Biden for the death of a 22-year-old nursing student in Georgia. An undocumented immigrant from Venezuela was arrested for that crime. You know, Trump wants to capitalize on polls that show most Americans are not happy with Biden's handling of the border. And as you say, this split screen of a day just shows how the border has become a major issue in the presidential election.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. Now, OK, to those opportunities that Democrats see. What are they?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, I mean, I spoke to Evan Roth Smith, a Democrat pollster for the political strategy group Blueprint, and he pointed to a special election in New York earlier this month won by Democrat Tom Suozzi, who went on the offensive over the border, especially after Republicans tanked that deal.

EVAN ROTH SMITH: We now have proof positive in this latest election that Republicans are out over their skis again on immigration. They don't know what to do, and they've handed Democrats something they can run on for months or maybe years.

ORDOÑEZ: Now, Roth Smith says it actually reminds him of how Democrats were able to campaign and win on abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Now, I got to say, that's a very optimistic perspective, but it's also very telling how Democrats see this as an opportunity to flip the script on Republicans, to kind of counter the narrative that Democrats are soft on the border, again, on an issue that's really been incredibly difficult for Biden.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Thanks a lot.

ORDOÑEZ: Thanks, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Franco Ordoñez
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.