Beto O'Rourke

Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke speaks to attendees as he kicks off his campaign in McAllen, Texas on Nov. 17, 2021.

(Reuters) — Beto O'Rourke, the Democratic former U.S. congressman who is running for governor of Texas, on Sunday criticized President Joe Biden for a lack of urgency on pursuing a revamp of immigration laws, indicating he will distance himself from the White House in his underdog campaign.

O'Rourke announced last Monday he will seek to unseat Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in next year's election, aiming to become the first Democrat to win a statewide race in Texas, the second most populous U.S. state, in three decades.

"I do not think we have seen enough urgency when it comes to rewriting our immigration laws to match the needs and the reality that we see, especially in our border communities," O'Rourke told CNN's "State of the Union" program on Sunday. "So, yes, we expect more of our president and those who represent us in Congress."

The Democratic president has made other issues such as infrastructure, social spending and Covid-19 relief higher legislative priorities than immigration reform. Democrats narrowly control Congress.

O'Rourke also took aim at Abbott, saying the governor is "using the border right now as a photo opportunity, scapegoating and vilifying immigrants, asking Texans to, quote, 'defend themselves' and take matters into their own hands from this 'invasion,' as he describes it."

Biden has faced criticism from Democrats and Republicans over immigration and border issues. Arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border have reached record levels in recent months.

Asked whether he would welcome Biden to Texas to help him campaign, O'Rourke suggested he would not, saying: "This campaign in Texas is not going to be about Joe Biden. It's not going to be about Donald Trump. It's not going to be about anyone from outside of our state."

Trump, known for a hardline approach on immigration, last year defeated Biden in Texas while losing the presidential election nationally.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Biden have pledged to create a working group on arms trafficking and related transborder crime and border security, the White House said on Friday.

Biden has kept in place a controversial order, first implemented by his Republican predecessor Trump last year, that allows migrants to be immediately expelled without an opportunity to seek asylum in light of the pandemic.

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