President Biden on Tuesday downplayed the importance of visiting the southern border, suggesting that a trip is not a high priority despite soaring illegal immigration and large quantities of fentanyl entering the U.S.
Mr. Biden’s remarks came as he departed the White House for a trip to Arizona, where he will be less than 100 miles from the border. The president is traveling to Phoenix to tout Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.’s new computer chip production facility.
“There are more important things going on. They are going to invest billions of dollars in a new enterprise,” Mr. Biden told reporters when asked why he isn’t visiting the border with Mexico.
The president’s dismissal of visiting the border comes ahead of a Dec. 21 expiration of a Trump-era policy known as Title 42, which places limits on which immigrants may claim asylum after crossing into the country illegally. A federal court last month concluded that Title 42 was constitutional. Its expiration is expected to spark a surge of illegal border crossings.
Mr. Biden’s remarks drew a strong rebuke from Republican lawmakers who have repeatedly urged him to get an in-person view of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Mr. President, the border crisis is without a doubt the single largest humanitarian & security crisis facing our nation. And you just don’t care,” tweeted Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.
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“You can’t have a secure nation without a secure border,” Sen. Steve Daines, Montana Republican, posted on Twitter.
Mr. Biden has not visited the border as president, despite urging from local and federal lawmakers in Arizona and Texas. Officials say the president needs to witness firsthand the problems at the border, including illegal immigration, human trafficking and deadly fentanyl entering the U.S.
Border encounters between U.S. law enforcement and illegal immigrants hit a record high under the Biden administration of 2.3 million so far this year, smashing last year’s record of 1.7 million.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said last month that Mr. Biden has been there, but she may have been referring to trips he made before becoming president.
On Monday, Ms. Jean-Pierre told reporters that Mr. Biden’s trip to Arizona was about the “American manufacturing boom we’re seeing all across the country,” which she credited to the president’s economic policies.
She also accused Republicans of obstructing a deal on immigration.
“We should be able to reach a bipartisan agreement on immigration, too, and that’s what we’re calling for, right? We’re asking for Republican officials to come and work with us and let’s have a bipartisan agreement on immigration instead of doing political stunts,” she said.
Mr. Biden isn’t the only person in his administration to take heat for downplaying the border crisis. Vice President Kamala Harris, who was named the administration’s “border czar,” was roundly criticized in September for declaring the border “secure” despite the flood of illegal immigrants.
Ms. Harris, who is tasked with solving the issue of illegal immigration from Central America, visited the southern border during a trip to El Paso, Texas, in June 2021 but hasn’t been back since.
Republican Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida this year have bused or flown thousands of migrants from the southern border to leftist enclaves such as New York City and Washington, D.C., in order to push Mr. Biden to adopt stricter policies.
In September, Mr. Abbott sent buses of migrants to the residence of Ms. Harris in Washington, D.C.
The White House has dismissed the governors’ actions as political theater at the expense of migrants’ well-being.
• Joseph Clark contributed to this article.