President Biden shunned a chance to visit the border Tuesday, saying he had something “more important” to do on a trip to Arizona than see the chaos that has erupted on his watch.
As he departed the White House for a flight to Phoenix, a short trip away from the border, the president told reporters that his priority was to tour a new computer chip plant.
“There’s a more important thing going on,” he said when asked why he wasn’t adding a border stop.
Mr. Biden has refused repeated invitations and suggestions from congressional Republicans and border state officials to see the southern border up close. They say he is ignoring the pain that has spread as the Border Patrol catches record numbers of illegal immigrants and releases them into communities.
The level of fentanyl trafficking and the number of terrorism suspects detected crossing the southern border are also at record highs, as are migrant deaths.
Border experts were stunned by the president’s brushoff.
“The president is living in an alternative universe devoid of facts, truth and reality,” Mark Morgan, who ran Customs and Border Protection in the Trump administration, told The Washington Times.
“We know there have been more than a million ‘gotaways’ in the past 23 months, including an untold number of murderers, rapists, pedophiles and gang members, as well as potential national security threats who now call the U.S. home,” Mr. Morgan said. “As the cartels expand their operational control, power and bank accounts at the expense of our country’s safety and national security, the president remains clueless.”
Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the labor union for Border Patrol agents, said Mr. Biden was falling down on “the most basic of responsibilities of the president of the United States.”
“Since he’s been in office, more than 140,000 U.S. citizens have died of fentanyl overdose, yet Biden doesn’t feel it is important enough to visit the location where most of the dangerous drugs are entering this country,” Mr. Judd said. “President Biden continues prioritizing politics rather than doing his job. He is failing all of us.”
Mr. Biden said his trip Tuesday was intended to highlight Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.’s new computer chip production facility. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, joined him.
“They’re going to invest billions of dollars in a new enterprise in the state,” he said.
The White House defended Mr. Biden’s thinking.
“The president was clear that his top priority is investing in the American economy and finance American communities, and he’s focused on outcompeting China and bringing back American jobs from overseas,” said press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. “If anyone believes the president shouldn’t make that his top priority, they should say so out loud.”
She challenged critics of the president’s record on immigration by saying he sent a framework for immigration legislation to Capitol Hill last year.
That legislation would grant citizenship rights to most illegal immigrants while promising more technology at the border and more legal assistance to illegal immigrants.
In practice, Mr. Biden has erased most of the get-tough policies of his predecessor at the border and made it tougher to be deported from the interior.
The result has been an unprecedented run at the border by migrants around the globe.
CBP has nabbed more than 4 million people crossing the Mexico border illegally since Feb. 1, 2021. It is by far a record.
In October alone, the agency seized 1,907 pounds of fentanyl. That is enough lethal doses to kill more than 430 million people.
Experts say the more drugs and people detected, the more are getting into the U.S.
Rodney Scott, whom the Biden team ousted as chief of the Border Patrol in 2021, told The Times that he wasn’t surprised the president ducked the chance to visit.
“First, no one wants to be seen standing beside the mess they created. Secondly, he wouldn’t want to be seen at the border before his own border czar [Vice President Kamala Harris] makes a visit, and third, traveling to the actual border would be akin to admitting that over 3 million encounters, including over 100 aliens on the terrorist watchlist, thousands of documented criminals, thousands of pounds of narcotics seizures, over 1,500 border deaths, and 600,000 documented gotaways, all while leaving hundreds of miles of border completely undefended, might indicate that there is actually a problem with his open borders policies,” Mr. Scott said.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texan who has been a key Republican on immigration over the years, took to Twitter to blast Mr. Biden’s statement.
“Mr. President, the border crisis is without a doubt the single largest humanitarian & security crisis facing our nation. And you just don’t care,” he wrote.
Early in his tenure, Mr. Biden tapped Ms. Harris to figure out ways to cut the flow of at the southern border, earning her the nickname of border czar.
She made a widely ridiculed trip to the border in June 2021 but hasn’t been back.
Ms. Jean-Pierre said what Mr. Biden has done on immigration is to host a summit in June asking leaders of the Western Hemisphere to do more to keep people in place.
“He focused on real solutions, not — again, not political stunts,” the spokeswoman said.
The agreement the leaders reached does not appear to have changed the trajectory at the border.
Ms. Jean-Pierre questioned Republicans’ commitment to border security.
“And if border security is such a top priority for Republican officials, voting against record funding for the Department of Homeland Security is … an odd way to show that,” she said.
Mr. Biden has proposed increases in funding for the full Homeland Security Department, though he has been relatively stingy with cash for immigration enforcement.
His proposed budget this year calls for less funding for CBP and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to an analysis from the Congressional Research Service.
• Joseph Clark contributed to this report.