Trump visits Texas for talks on border crisis
MCALLEN, Texas – Driving home his point that illegal crossings have created a national humanitarian and security crisis, President Donald Trump took his case for a border wall to this city in the Rio Grande Valley on Thursday, one of the busiest regions of the southern border and an epicenter for illegal immigration.
The visit came one day after Trump abruptly walked out of budget negotiations with Democrats in Washington to end the government shutdown, now nearing the end of its third week and with no end in sight.
At a U.S. Border Patrol station, where he attended a roundtable on immigration and border security, Trump continued to urge Congress to provide funding for the construction of a border wall.
Trump also blamed Democrats for the partial government shutdown, pushing back against their criticism that the situation at the border was a crisis “manufactured” by the White House.
“It’s not. What is manufactured is the use of the word ‘manufactured,’” Trump said.
Joining him were Texas’ two Republican senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, as well as Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan and the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite.
Also participating in the roundtable were relatives of law enforcement officers who were killed or suspected to have been killed by people who were in the U.S. illegally. Trump has frequently sought to rally public support for his immigration message at events with “angel families,” a term for those affected by violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants.
Cruz welcomed the president to Texas and declared that “the American people want the border secure.”
“Illegal immigration produces tragedies each day. . . . When we see politicians go on TV and say the border’s secure and there is no crisis, they are ignoring reality,” Cruz said.
Trump later took a tour along the Rio Grande, where he received a security briefing. Trump also will sit for an interview at the border with Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity.
Trump’s visit to McAllen put him a few miles away from where the Army established a base camp in the town of Donna early in November from which to carry out border operations. Soldiers primarily strung concertina wire and added other barriers to slow access to the United States from the south.
The Pentagon has about 2,300 active-duty troops on the southern border assisting the Department of Homeland Security, down from a high of 5,900. The operation is approved through Jan. 31, but could be extended again. About 1,100 soldiers and Ma- rines are assigned to border support in California, with an additional 600 troops in Texas and 650 in Arizona.
Talks to reopen the government are at a stalemate as the partial shutdown nears its fourth week. Trump exited a negotiating session Wednesday, saying “bye-bye” after Democratic leaders said they would refuse to give him the $5.7 billion he is seeking for added border security.
On Thursday, after meeting with Senate Republicans, Vice President Mike Pence ruled out any agreement that involved protections for “dreamers” brought to the country illegally as children. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters that talks were over and that he had “never been more depressed about moving forward than right now.”
Trump’s visit to the southern border comes as the president is weighing whether to declare a national emergency at the border.
“I have the option,” Trump told reporters as he departed the White House en route to Texas. “If this doesn’t work out, I probably will do it, maybe definitely.”
Trump said that he is not ready yet to declare an emergency and that he would still prefer to work with Congress. He added that he is willing to compromise.
“I would like to do the deal through Congress,” he said. “It makes sense to do the deal through Congress . . . It would be nice if we can make a deal, but dealing with these people is ridiculous.”
In a Tuesday night Oval Office address to the nation, Trump said the situation at the border had reached crisis proportions, describing murder, rape and beheadings by illegal immigrants. Democrats said he was exaggerating the situation.
McAllen, a city of about 140,000, has become a focal point in the debate over immigration.
Over the past decade, it and the surrounding Rio Grande Valley have become the busiest place along the U.S.-Mexico border for illegal crossings.
Trump’s first stop Thursday was the McAllen Border Patrol station. Its holding cells became so overcrowded during a 2014 crisis that the Obama administration purchased a nearby warehouse, converting it into a designated processing center for families and children with chain-link detention pens.
The president’s itinerary Thursday also took him to the Rio Grande and the banks of the winding river where the Trump administration’s border wall plan would add dozens of miles of fencing.
Large tracts of private property would need to be acquired by the government to create space for the wall and service roads, driving up construction costs, and several local farmers and ranchers in the McAllen area say they will challenge the administration’s plan in court.
Thursday’s visit marked Trump’s second trip to the U.S.-Mexico border as president. Last year, he traveled to the San Diego area, where he viewed border wall prototypes.