Vice President Kamala Harris went to the U.S.-Mexico border quickly after she and President Biden took workplace, although she had characterised such visits as empty politics simply weeks earlier than. President Barack Obama additionally toured the border throughout his time in the White Home, although he got here to see the journeys as little greater than picture ops.

Donald J. Trump used the border when he was president to impress help for his anti-immigration insurance policies, even signing his identify on his “big, beautiful wall” with a Sharpie pen.

As the immigration debate grows more and more polarized, a journey alongside the 2,000-mile frontier has change into a obligatory bit of political theater for leaders who wish to present they care about immigration. The imagery at the border — the wall, the Border Patrol officers, the crowded detention amenities — serves as a potent backdrop for drawing consideration to the disaster or, more and more, for seizing on the subject to assault political opponents.

On Thursday, each of these components might be at play when President Biden and Mr. Trump make dueling journeys to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mr. Trump will journey to Eagle Move, Texas, the place he’ll discuss crimes dedicated by migrants and blame Mr. Biden for surging crossings at the border. Mr. Biden, greater than 300 miles away in Brownsville, plans to talk with border brokers and name out Home Republicans who took their cue from Mr. Trump and thwarted a bipartisan border invoice that will have cracked down on illegal migration.

“It’s a relatively new phenomenon, where you go and make a big deal of the border at the border,” mentioned Tevi Troy, a presidential historian. “As long as this remains an issue, we’re going to have presidents who either go to make a political point or if they don’t go, are pressured to do so.”

Immigration has change into one of Mr. Biden’s greatest political liabilities as tens of millions of migrants overwhelm the underfunded and underresourced system, one thing that Republicans like Mr. Trump are eager to spotlight. A Gallup poll released on Tuesday discovered that People are almost definitely to call immigration as the most vital drawback in the nation.

“This is a Hail Mary by Biden,” mentioned Brandon Judd, president of the Nationwide Border Patrol Council, the predominant union for Border Patrol brokers. Mr. Judd, who has lengthy supported Mr. Trump, will be a part of the former president in Eagle Move on Thursday. Nonetheless, he mentioned, he was in favor of the border invoice in Congress that Mr. Biden supported and Mr. Trump opposed.

Immigration is at the heart of Mr. Trump’s candidacy for president and lots of Republicans, particularly in the Home, could be reluctant to provide an election-year win to Mr. Biden on a difficulty that has given them a highly effective line of criticism towards the White Home.

The politics of the border weren’t at all times so divisive. In 1971, Pat Nixon, then the first woman, captured headlines when she greeted Mexican youngsters and complained about fencing whereas visiting a park alongside the border in San Diego.

Many years later, President George W. Bush traveled to a Border Patrol submit in New Mexico to rally help for his try and overhaul the nation’s immigration coverage. Whereas the Senate at that time supported a invoice that included a path to eventual citizenship for a lot of unlawful immigrants, the Home emphasised the want for border safety.

Mr. Obama confronted starker divisions. In 2011, he made a speech in El Paso close by of the border to push for legalization legal guidelines, in a nod to Latino voters who could be essential in the 2012 election. However in 2014, as a report quantity of unaccompanied minors crossed the border, Mr. Obama confronted relentless calls to go to the border, which he dismissed.

“I’m not interested in photo ops,” Mr. Obama mentioned.

Mr. Trump was. He visited the border a number of instances throughout his presidency and might need gone extra if not for the pandemic.

Virtually as quickly as Mr. Biden got here into workplace, he and Ms. Harris confronted calls for by Republicans who mentioned they need to go to the border and see the disaster for themselves. Each of them have made the journey to El Paso; Ms. Harris in June 2021 and Mr. Biden in January 2023.

Each of them have additionally confronted criticism. Republicans took Ms. Harris to activity for going to El Paso as an alternative of the decrease Rio Grande Valley, thought of the epicenter of the surge in migration. Progressive Democrats mentioned Mr. Biden ought to have spoken on to migrants.

Gil Kerlikowske, the commissioner of Customs and Border Safety throughout the Obama administration, mentioned presidents and different prime officers can present that they prioritize the border by visiting. However he additionally acknowledged that such visits could also be extra for political achieve.

“It’s so politically sensitive right now,” Mr. Kerlikowske mentioned. “To have them come and view the work and the difficulties that Customs and Border Protection in particular faces on the border tells you that this will be, if not No. 1, then certainly one or two in the topics of this presidential election cycle.”