Donald Trump will join Texas governor Greg Abbott at the US-Mexico border on Wednesday, as the former American president seeks to recapture the national limelight by returning to a hallmark issue of his political career.
Republican politicians are also hoping the visit will put an uncomfortable spotlight on Joe Biden’s administration, which they blame for causing an immigration crisis by rolling back many of Trump’s restrictions.
The number of migrants arriving at the southern US border has surged in recent months. More than 180,000 migrants were encountered at the south-west frontier by US Border Patrol in May, compared to just over 23,000 in the same month last year.
The total number of migrants crossing the land border from October to May is almost 930,000 according to official figures, more than twice the number apprehended over the previous fiscal year ending September 30 2020.
Trump’s visit comes just days after Kamala Harris toured border facilities in El Paso, Texas, in her first trip to the US-Mexico border since becoming vice-president.
Harris made the trip following weeks of attacks from Republicans who said she had not done enough to address the crisis, despite being tasked by President Biden with addressing the root causes of rising migration.
Trump claimed in a statement through his Save America political action committee that Harris “would never have gone” to the border were it not for his planned trip with Abbott.
Harris said during her visit that the border situation could “not be reduced to a political issue”.
During the presidential campaign, Biden and Harris vowed to take a more humane approach to immigration in contrast with Trump’s hardline policies. But they have struggled to balance a compassionate message with attempts to dissuade people from making the dangerous, difficult trek in hopes of being allowed into the US.
As president, Trump vowed to build a wall on the US-Mexico border and make the Mexican government pay for it. The US government ended up using federal funds to build a partial wall, mostly along the border between Arizona and Mexico. Those efforts were halted by the Biden administration in April.
Earlier this year the Biden administration also partially suspended a Trump-era rule that allowed US authorities to turn back everyone crossing the southern border to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The rule, known as Title 42, has been left largely in place but suspended for unaccompanied children, who are being allowed entry and having their asylum claims processed.
But the number of children trying to cross the US-Mexico border has risen sharply, leaving the Biden administration scrambling to find adequate holding facilities and drawing criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.
For Trump, Wednesday’s visit presents an opportunity to return to a core theme that helped him to win the White House in 2016, as he charges back into the political arena.
The former president held his first post-White House rally last weekend in Wellington, Ohio, and has endorsed a slate of what he calls “America First” candidates — including Abbott — for next year’s midterm elections, when control of both chambers of Congress and dozens of state governor’s mansions will be up for grabs.
Abbott, who is up for re-election in 2022, has also proven to be a thorn in the side of the Biden administration. He has signed several bills — including one restricting the teaching of critical race theory in Texas and another that allows his state’s residents to carry handguns without a permit — into law in recent weeks.
Earlier this month Abbott announced his own plans to build a wall between his state and Mexico, funded by Texas taxpayers and private donations.
A Quinnipiac poll conducted earlier this month found half of Texas voters supported Abbott’s proposal to build a wall.
The same poll underscored how the immigration crisis is undermining Biden’s credibility with voters in border states. The survey found 47 per cent of Texas voters approved of Abbott’s handling of the situation at the Mexican border, compared to just 29 per cent who approved of Biden’s handling of the issue.
But the poll also predicted a challenging re-election campaign for Abbott in November next year, assuming he is able to stave off any primary challengers for the Republican nomination.
While 46 per cent of Texas voters said Abbott deserved to be re-elected, 48 per cent said he did not.
Democrats have increasingly made inroads in the second most populous US state in recent years but failed to capture a major statewide office in decades.
Beto O’Rourke, the former Democratic congressman who fell short in his bid to oust Texas senator Ted Cruz in 2018 and led a fleeting campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2019, has not ruled out challenging Abbott for the governor’s mansion.