(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden and his political rival Donald Trump undertook dueling visits to the US southern border on Thursday, highlighting an issue that stands to feature prominently in an expected November rematch of their bitterly contested 2020 contest.

With Biden in Brownsville and Trump 300 miles away in Eagle Pass, the president and his predecessor competed for attention, each seeking to demonstrate his ability to respond to a migrant surge that voters say is one of their top concerns ahead of November’s election.

Biden toured border areas with his Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, US Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens and local officials, while Trump received his own briefing from the state’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott.

Trump and Abbott greeted members of the Texas National Guard, Border Patrol and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers at Shelby Park, a hot spot for migrants seeking to enter the US. They walked past shipping containers topped with razor wire placed there to discourage migrants.

‘Biden Invasion’

“This is a Joe Biden invasion,” Trump said as he delivered remarks outdoors against a dusty backdrop, flanked by the governor and other officials. “The United States is being overrun by Biden migrant crime.”

Trump ticked off a list of violent crime allegedly committed by migrants, including the recent killing of a Georgia nursing student. “Joe Biden will never say Laken Riley’s name,” Trump said, adding that he had spoken to her parents.

The former president praised Texas officials’ efforts to stop the flow of migrants, contrasting their approach with Democratic governors in other states, including California’s Gavin Newsom, a prominent Biden surrogate whom he mocked with a new nickname: “Newscum.”

“We have languages coming into our country — nobody that even speaks those languages,” Trump said. “They’re pouring into our country, and they’re bringing with them tremendous problems, including medical problems.”

Across the Rio Grande in Mexico, a small crowd gathered to watch the spectacle, standing on a retaining wall decorated with a colorful mural. Trump at one point waved and pumped his fist at the people on the other side of the border. 

“Today is a day of extraordinary contrast,” Abbott said. The governor has assailed the Biden administration over its response and fought it in court over how much local officials can do to secure the border. And he’s sent busses of migrants to cities in other states.

Read more: Texas Picks a Fight With Biden Over Powers to Patrol the Border

As Trump spoke, Biden was being briefed at a border patrol station by US Customs and Border Protection, US Citizenship and Immigration Services and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

Biden began speaking just moments after Trump wrapped up, urged the former president to join him in securing passage of a bipartisan border deal, which Republicans had rejected under pressure from the GOP frontrunner.

“Instead of playing politics on this issue, instead of telling members of Congress to block this legislation: join me, or I’ll join you in telling the Congress to pass this bipartisan border security bill,’ Biden said. 

“We can do it together, you know and I know it’s the toughest, most efficient, most effective border security bill this country has ever seen,” he added. 

Rejected Deal

Biden has sought to reverse criticism of the administration’s handling of the crisis by highlighting Republicans’ decision, at Trump’s behest, to kill the painstakingly negotiated bipartisan deal. That agreement would have given the president powers to effectively close the border if crossings reached certain levels. Biden has said his rival would rather “weaponize” the issue of immigration than address it.

The president pushed Congress to act, saying lawmakers needed to approve more funding for Border Patrol agents and for additional immigration judges to deal with a backlog in cases.

“It’s long past time to act,” Biden said. “We can’t wait any longer.”

Biden earlier met with Border Patrol agents as he toured a section of the Rio Grande with a boat patrolling the calm waters behind them. There were no migrants visible. Pro-Trump protesters waved flags along a nearby fence.

The border visits come at a critical moment for the presidential contenders.

Trump is closing in on the GOP nomination and increasingly solidifying his hold on the party. He’s vowed to carry out the largest deportation in US history and complete a wall along the entire Southern border if returned to office.

Texas holds its primaries on March 5, Super Tuesday, when voters in more than a dozen states head to the polls.

Blame Game

A February Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll shows a majority of voters in seven swing states still hold Biden and congressional Democrats responsible for the migrant surge. But blame for congressional Republicans and the Trump administration each increased 5 percentage points compared to the previous month.

Read more: Biden Is Too Old But Trump Is Dangerous, Swing-State Voters Say

While Biden contends that Congress needs to act on immigration — he told governors visiting the White House last week that his lawyers have told him he has few options — Speaker Mike Johnson has said the president can take executive action to deal with the border, leaving the two sides at a stalemate. 

--With assistance from Stephanie Lai, Michelle Jamrisko and Akayla Gardner.

(Updates with additional details from Trump, Biden visits)

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.