Editorial: A better border battle: Biden, not Trump, has real immigration solutions

In dueling visits to the Texas-Mexico border, President Joe Biden and Donald Trump each tried to make the case that they’re the person best positioned to handle immigration amid polls showing voters trust the latter more despite his chaotic and sadistic tenure presiding over the nation’s enforcement infrastructure.

Biden should use this as a definitive breaking-off point to differentiate himself from Trump, not in who can be the toughest, but who can craft real solutions to benefit the country.

The answers aren’t at the Rio Grande, they are at the Potomac. Going to the border to look around is not going to give anyone policy information that they couldn’t get from a brief, particularly the current and former U.S. president (not that Trump was known to really read briefs anyway).

That goes double for touring with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, as Trump did; Abbott’s main contribution to the immigration policy landscape over the last two years has been mainly an aggressive campaign to push the boundaries of the law and wrestle control from the federal government itself.

Ideally, what these visits could do is give the candidates a feel for the realities on the ground, far away from the chittering of the New York Post and Fox News — a border that is by all metrics very well guarded, by the Border Patrol and its arsenal of technologies including drones and sensor towers.

Many migrants are actually seeking to turn themselves in, asking for asylum protections under the law; if these processes are chaotic or too open-ended, it is because of the failures of our own bureaucratic and legal systems, not anything these asylum seekers did.

These campaign stops are political statements, and in the current context the statement is that the candidates are taking the issue seriously; that’s good, because it’s serious business. Yet if Biden is bewildered by finding himself constantly on defense, that’s because he’s yielded the field to Trump’s wild accusations about some nonexistent surge in migrant crime and seeing measured bipartisan congressional negotiations be torpedoed by Trump for electoral reasons.

If Biden wants to own this issue, the president should understand that he can’t and shouldn’t try to out-Trump Trump, nor will entreaties for Trump to “join me” in developing policy — as he said during his visit to Brownsville— do much for a man who only cares about spectacle and his personal self-aggrandizement.

Biden must stake out an alternate path, his own path that will use the significant levers of power available to a U.S. president to actually help the states and localities receiving migrants and continue to respect the humanity of the latter.

He can act to fund case management and migrant services, coordinate placements of migrants to places around the country where they’re desperately needed to plug labor force gaps, and point squarely to the data showing that immigration has almost single-handedly stopped the economy from sliding into recession.

Biden does not have to play on Trump’s turf. He’s right to urge Congress to act, but he should make clear that Democrats will seek to secure paths to citizenship for Dreamers, to reform work visas, to streamline asylum. Timidity has been a failing strategy. It’s time to go on the offensive.