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PolitiFact FL: Context behind Biden and Trump’s dueling immigration speeches at the Texas border

Former President Donald Trump, left, speaks Feb. 29, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas; President Joe Biden speaks the same day in Brownsville, Texas.
Associated Press
Former President Donald Trump, left, speaks Feb. 29, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas; President Joe Biden speaks the same day in Brownsville, Texas.

WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning team seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.

The two 2024 presidential election front-runners traveled to Texas on Feb. 29 to deliver vastly different messages about a key election issue: immigration.

Former President Donald Trump stoked fear about the people crossing the southern U.S. border, citing recent high-profile criminal cases in which authorities charged immigrants who were in the U.S. illegally. President Joe Biden blamed Republicans for sidelining a Senate immigration bill he said would have given his administration the resources and powers needed to reduce illegal immigration.

Speaking at Eagle Pass, Texas, the epicenter of a feud between the state and the federal government, Trump joined Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, the Border Patrol union’s leader and Texas National Guard members.

A few minutes after Trump spoke and about 300 miles south, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, and Border Patrol agents joined Biden as he spoke in Brownsville, Texas.

Trump spent the hours before his speech blasting Biden’s immigration policies over social media and in a Daily Mail article, and positioning himself as the only person able to "stop Biden’s illegal immigrant invasion."

At the end of his speech, Biden asked Trump to join him in getting Congress to pass the Senate border security bill.

"Instead of playing politics with the issue, why don't we just get together and get it done," Biden said.

PolitiFact listened to both presidential candidates. Biden overstated the authority provided to him in the border security bill. Trump made broad and often unsubstantiated statements about the migrants entering the U.S. and his administration’s immigration successes.

Here’s the context behind some of their statements.

President Joe Biden talks with the U.S. Border Patrol.
Evan Vucci
President Joe Biden talks with the U.S. Border Patrol, as he looks over the southern border, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Brownsville, Texas, along the Rio Grande.

Biden overstates possible effect of emergency authority in border security bill

The Senate bill "would also give me as president, or any of the next presidents, emergency authority to temporarily shut down the border between ports of entry." — Biden in Brownsville

The Senate proposal, which failed 49-50, sought to enable the executive branch to block people from seeking asylum in between ports of entry if illegal immigration encounters reached certain levels.

That doesn’t mean people would stop coming to U.S. borders. A public health policy to mitigate COVID-19’s spread that was in place from March 2020 to May 2023 also largely blocked people from seeking asylum, but border encounters rose.

"There is this idea that we control how many migrants attempt illegal crossings. We do not," Theresa Cardinal Brown, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s senior adviser for Immigration and border policy previously told PolitiFact. "We control what happens once we encounter someone who has already crossed the border illegally."

Under current immigration law, people on U.S. soil are allowed to seek asylum regardless of how they entered the country. The bill’s emergency authority tried to change that. But the government’s ability to quickly remove people from the U.S. would still hinge on its resources, and other countries’ willingness to take back immigrants.

"In short, there is no authority that Congress could pass that would allow for a ‘complete and total shutdown of the border,’" Brown told us in February. "That's just not how borders work in any real sense. Especially not our border with Mexico."

Trump leaves out context on migrants and crime, exaggerates his administration’s success

Donald Trump gestures near barbed wire.
Eric Gay
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks as he arrives for a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas.

The person charged with a Georgia nursing student’s murder "is an illegal alien migrant who was led into our country and released into our communities by ‘Crooked Joe’ Biden," — Trump in Eagle Pass.

Laken Riley, a 22-year old nursing student at the University of Georgia, was killed while on a run Feb. 22. Authorities charged Jose Ibarra with the murder.

Ibarra, a 26-year old from Venezuela, was stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection when he illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in September 2022, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Ibarra was paroled in, allowing him to be released into the U.S. to await further immigration proceedings.

There is conflicting information on whether he was arrested in New York City. ICE told PolitiFact the New York Police Department arrested Ibarra on Aug. 31, 2023, and charged him with "acting in a manner to injure a child less than 17 and a motor vehicle license violation." ICE said the police released him before immigration authorities were able to issue a detainer request for him. But NYPD told PolitFact there were no arrests filed under the name "Jose Ibarra" in 2023.

Despite high-profile cases of crimes committed by, or charged to immigrants in the U.S. illegally, research shows that immigrants are not more likely to commit crimes than U.S.-born people. A 2023 Stanford University study found immigrants are 30% less likely to be incarcerated than people born in the U.S. Research published in 2024 by the libertarian Cato Institute found that in Texas, immigrants in the U.S. illegally have a lower homicide conviction rate than people born in the U.S.

"We ended catch and release," — Trump in Eagle Pass.

This is misleading and doesn’t reflect what happened. Republicans often use the term "catch and release" to describe immigration authorities stopping immigrants at the border and releasing them so they can await their court hearings outside of federal custody.

Both Democratic and Republican administrations have followed this practice for decades, because there’s limited detention space and court rulings have capped how long someone can be detained.

In January 2017, Trump signed an executive order to end "catch and release." But a few months later, his own attorney general testified to the Senate that the practice continued because of the long case backlog and an immigration judges shortage.

"We built 571 miles of border wall, much more than I promised I'd build," — Trump in Eagle Pass. 

During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to build a border wall along at least 1,000 miles of the nearly 2,000-mile U.S. southern border. He did not fulfill that promise.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection data says the Trump administration built barriers along 458 miles. But the majority of that construction replaced existing smaller, dilapidated barriers and did not add to the total miles of southern border barriers.

The amount of new primary barriers added — 52 miles — is about 10 times less than Trump’s estimate. Primary barriers are the first impediment people encounter when they’re trying to cross the southern border with Mexico, they can block people who are walking or driving.

Our Sources

Maria Ramirez Uribe is an immigration reporter at PolitiFact.