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Donald Trump, following Harford County case, attacks Joe Biden on immigration during debate

Former President of the United States Donald Trump at the "Rally to Protect Our Elections" hosted by Turning Point Action at Arizona Federal Theatre in Phoenix, Ariz., July 24, 2022. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

A week after the arrest of a Harford County murder suspect who had entered the country unlawfully, former President Donald Trump attacked President Joe Biden’s immigration policy, saying in a debate Thursday night: “We don’t have borders anymore.”

“We had the safest border in the history of our country. He decided to open up our border. Now we have the worst border in history,” Trump said.

Biden countered during the planned 90-minute debate that Republicans had an opportunity to curb border crossings, but did not seize the chance.

During discussion of immigration, Trump said he had spoken to the mother of a murder victim. A week ago, he called and expressed condolences to the mother of Rachel Morin, the 37-year-old Harford County mother of five killed by a man from El Salvador. But it was uncertain if he was referring to that conversation, or a conversation with another mother since he then cited the killing of a 12-year-old girl in Texas.

The CNN debate was the first of the campaign pitting Biden, a Democrat, against the Republican Trump, who is again seeking the presidency after losing his reelection bid to Biden in 2020.

The Harford County homicide became part of the presidential campaign after Victor Antonio Martinez-Hernandez, a native of El Salvador, was arrested June 14 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and extradited last Thursday to Maryland.

He is charged with raping and murdering Morin, whose body was found last August in a wooded area near the Ma & Pa Heritage Trail in Bel Air and Forest Hill.

Trump, in campaign statements and at a Philadelphia rally last Saturday, referenced Morin’s killing in criticizing what he called Biden’s “open border” policy.

A conservative group, Building America’s Future, posted a new ad on social media on Wednesday citing the killing of Morin and the fatal beating in February of Laken Riley, a University of Georgia student, on a morning run. Jose Ibarra, 26, a migrant from Venezuela, was charged.

Last Thursday, Trump called Morin’s mother to express his condolences.

Trump and his supporters had already been hitting Biden hard on his border policies, an area they believe he is vulnerable.

Early this year, a bipartisan Senate group, including Oklahoma Republican James Lankford and Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, negotiated legislation intended to reduce the volume of border crossings. Republicans shelved the measure, which would have also tightened asylum requirements, in February and then blocked similar legislation in May after Trump objected.

Gov. Wes Moore, who also offered Patty Morin condolences, and other Maryland Democrats accused Republicans of rejecting the measure because it could have aided Biden politically.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Martinez-Hernandez tried three times during January and February 2023 to enter the country unlawfully, and was turned back each time. ICE said he managed to enter the country near El Paso, Texas, in the middle of February.

At the time, a Trump-initiated program called Title 42 was still in effect. The program, which Biden lifted in May 2023, blocked potential border crossers from seeking asylum in the U.S. to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Authorities believe Martinez-Hernandez killed a woman in El Salvador before coming to the U.S., according to Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler.

Gahler, a Republican, told reporters last Saturday: “To 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and to every member of both chambers of Congress: We are 1,800 miles away from the southern border here in Harford County and the American citizens are not safe because of failed immigration policy.”

The sheriff has complained about Democratic policies before, accusing state lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly in 2023 of favoring “pro-criminal, anti-police” bills.

Harford, a Republican-oriented county, voted for Trump — 54.6% to 42.6% — over Biden in 2020,

But Biden handily won the state, 65.4% to 32.2%.

©2024 Baltimore Sun. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.