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Biden to visit Brownsville after Trump declares intent on further militarizing immigration system

A migrant encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, across from Brownsville, Texas, in January.
Gaige Davila
A few of the remaining residents in a migrant encampment in Matamoros.

President Joe Biden planned to visit the Rio Grande Valley this Thursday. It would be his second visit to the U.S.-Mexico border during his presidency.

The White House said the president will visit Brownsville and was expected to advocate for the bipartisan bill Congress attempted to pass three weeks ago. Biden also planned to meet with U.S. Border Patrol agents, law enforcement and local leaders.

The trip comes after last week when the Washington Post reported that former president Donald Trump seeks to further militarize the U.S. immigration system. The plans include the building mass “deportation camps” to place immigrants in, inspired by “Operation Wetback,” the racist mid-1950’s U.S. Border Patrol operation that deported millions of Mexican migrant workers and U.S. citizens. Ahead of the president’s visit, Biden’s re-election campaign dismissed Trump’s plans.

“When we look at militarizing our immigration system, building mass detention camps, attempting to deny children that were born here their citizenship, these are not real solutions. They are not serious solutions,” Kevin Munoz, a senior spokesperson for Biden’s campaign told TPR.

Biden and his campaign advocated for the bill since it was passed by the House in January and said Congress was ultimately responsible for addressing the amount of people seeking asylum through the southern border.

“There is no solution to the issues we are facing at the border unless Congress comes to the table in good faith and addresses these issues. And that's what we have said for far too long. And we're going to be making that case on the campaign trail, because we know the American people want action,” Munoz said.

Initially the bill included $95 billion in aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, which was approved separately by the Senate. The bill as it stands now, which the American Immigration Council described as making the asylum process harder for people to start upon entering the U.S. but makes the process itself faster, has yet to receive a senate vote.

House Republicans allied with Trump refused to vote on the bill out of the former president’s desire to use immigration as a campaign platform heading into the November election.

Trump will be on the Texas-Mexico border on Thursday, too, but in Eagle Pass, which is 330 miles northwest of Brownsville. Both visits come at a time when Arizona is where most people are crossing and less are crossing in Texas.

The decrease is evident in Brownsville, where humanitarian organizations like Team Brownsville have seen around 100 asylum seekers a day. In May 2023, around the time the Title 42 policy was lifted, thousands of people were coming through the Welcome Center, a space where several organizations, including Team Brownsville, feed and provide direction to migrants as they came into the city.

But as the election approaches and rhetoric surrounding immigration becomes increasingly more nationalist, Team Brownsville co-founder Andrea Rudnik feared for the future of the asylum process.

“We are in a situation of waiting and watching, of not really knowing what's going to come next, of, I want to say, hopeful expectation,” Rudnik told TPR. “But I don't really feel that hopeful, unfortunately. Because as the primaries go by and as I see Trump being chosen again and again as the [Republican] candidate. I don't know what we're walking into. I'm afraid of what we're walking into.”

Rudnik said she was even fearful of Biden’s latest positioning on immigration, where the president has floated ideas of harsher immigration policy as a response to Republicans saying he is not doing enough on border security. She hoped that the president will see the humanity of those crossing into the U.S., though the White House had not confirmed whether Biden will be meeting with migrants.

“They haven't left everything behind and taken this long, dangerous, dangerous journey for the fun of it, just on a whim,” Rudnik said. “They've come because they felt that they had to come and anyone who's talking about asylum has to know that.”

Though it is not clear who all of the "local leadership" Biden is meeting with, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg canceled this week’s city council meeting to travel to Brownsville to accompany the president.

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Gaige Davila is the Border and Immigration Reporter for Texas Public Radio.