Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event in Las Vegas, Nevada.—AFP
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event in Las Vegas, Nevada.—AFP

LAS VEGAS: Joe Biden and Donald Trump traded verbal jabs over a bipartisan plan for border reforms, aimed at stemming a surge in migrants crossing into the United States from Mexico.

With immigration one of the hottest electoral issues in what increasingly looks like a Trump-Biden rematch for the White House this year, the fate of the bill being negotiated by the Senate has become a high-stakes battleground.

Republican primary frontrunner Trump has put immigration front and centre in his campaign, issuing dire warnings about the porous nature of the border — yet has simultaneously pushed back hard against a deal, even as Biden tacks right and promises to temporarily “shut down” the border.

Biden threw his weight behind the proposed bill on Saturday, insisting it would usher in the “toughest-ever” set of border reforms. “It would give me as president the emergency authority to shut down the border until it can get back under control,” Biden said in a speech in South Carolina. “If that bill was law today I’d shut down the border right now and fix it quickly.”

Immigration becomes one of the hottest issues in presidential race

Trump has instead continued to castigate Biden over “open borders” as an influx in migrants roils domestic politics. “The border is in play (politically) like it’s never been in play before,” he said at a campaign speech in Las Vegas.

Following Trump’s extensive lobbying, Mike Johnson, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, said in an open letter that any such bill adopted by the Senate would be “dead in the water” and never get passed by the House.

“They’re blaming it on me, I said, ‘That’s OK, blame it on me, please’,” Trump said on Saturday. “I’d rather have no bill than a bad bill.”

As Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the federal government engage in a standoff over control over the border, Trump said he would give the state his “full support” and “deploy all necessary military and law enforcement resources to seal up the final section of border”.

In keeping with his often dark rhetoric on immigration, the former president said there was a “100 percent chance that there will be a major terrorist attack in the United States” carried out by people crossing the border.

“We will begin the largest dometic deportation operation in America,” he said, as the oft-repeated campaign ple­dge brought cheers from the audience.

The deal being negotiated in Congress carries high stakes, and not just for the presidential candidates. In addition to addressing Americans’ concerns about the influx of migrants arriving via Mexico, it would provide vital military assistance for Ukraine in its war against Russian invaders.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2024

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