‘We would stop it cold’

Con­tra­band spot­lighted in wall pitch in the Val­ley

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page - By AL­FREDO CORCHADO and TODD J. GILL­MAN Staff Writ­ers

MCALLEN — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump vis­ited Mcallen on Thurs­day to dra­ma­tize his de­mands for a bor­der wall, though he ended up il­lus­trat­ing the case with drugs and guns cap­tured at ports of en­try rather than un­guarded sec­tions of the fron­tier.

Trump has long depicted the re­gion as law­less and over­run by gangs, drugs and un­wel­come mi­grants. Res­i­dents and lo­cal lead­ers called that false even as he used a three­hour visit as lever­age in a pro­longed bud­get fight with Congress.

Trump re­it­er­ated a threat to de­clare a na­tional emer­gency, then shift funds from the de­fense bud­get or from funds ear­marked for vic­tims of wild­fires and hur­ri­canes. He said Thurs­day that it would be “very sur­pris­ing” if he re­frains from in­vok­ing emer­gency power un­less Democrats give in to his $5.7 bil­lion de­mand.

“If we had a bar­rier of any kind, a pow­er­ful bar­rier, whether it’s steel or con­crete ... we would stop it cold,” Trump said at a meet­ing with law en­force­ment, Texas Repub­li­can al­lies and vic­tims of crimes com­mit­ted by un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants.

At a brief­ing in­tended to

help drum up sup­port for the wall, cus­toms and Bor­der Pa­trol of­fi­cials showed the pres­i­dent heroin, cash and weapons seized at ports of en­try — do­ing lit­tle to re­in­force the case that un­fenced sec­tions of the bor­der are a prob­lem that jus­ti­fies a dis­rup­tive gov­ern­ment shut­down or costly con­struc­tion project.

The con­tra­band dis­played for Trump in­cluded 117 kilo­grams of metham­phetamine and 12 kilo­grams of heroin. Car­los Ro­driguez, port di­rec­tor for Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion, also showed Trump two fire ex­tin­guish­ers in which smug­glers had hid­den drugs that he said were de­tected by dogs and tech­nol­ogy used to ex­pose se­cret com­part­ments.

He also showed the pres­i­dent three gold­plated hand­guns en­crusted with di­a­monds, an AK­47 and a .50 cal­iber ri­fle — all, he said, seized at ports of en­try in Texas.

A Bor­der Pa­trol agent showed the pres­i­dent a large clear bag con­tain­ing $362,000 in cash, traced to the home of a smug­gler after an agent at the Wes­laco bor­der cross­ing be­came sus­pi­cious.

“Wow, that’s some­thing,” Trump said. “The dogs are in­cred­i­ble, aren’t they?”

Trump, who also talked about how tun­nels are used un­der the bor­der, didn’t ap­pear to no­tice that the ex­am­ples he viewed didn’t in­volve gaps be­tween ex­ist­ing bar­rier seg­ments.

Congress has so far re­fused to agree to his de­mand for $5.7 bil­lion. The stale­mate has led to the par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down that started Dec. 22.

“We don’t want to have open­ings” in the wall, he said, ar­gu­ing that with an ex­panded wall, “You’ll see the crime rate in this coun­try com­ing way down.”

Rel­a­tives of law en­force­ment of­fi­cers killed by im­mi­grants in the coun­try il­le­gally emo­tion­ally re­counted their fam­i­lies’ tragedies. Trump, wear­ing a “Make Amer­ica Great Again” cam­paign hat, stood and led ova­tions of ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

Sen. Ted Cruz lauded Trump for putting a spot­light on bor­der se­cu­rity.

“Il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion pro­duces tragedies each day,” he said. “I want to com­mend you for in­fus­ing more back­bone in Wash­ing­ton. The Amer­i­can peo­ple want the bor­der se­cure.”

‘A cri­sis’

Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Kirst­jen Nielsen took is­sue with al­le­ga­tions that the cri­sis is man­u­fac­tured, call­ing that an “in­sult to those who lost loved ones . ... It’s not sta­tus quo. It’s a cri­sis.”

Pres­i­dents have wide lat­i­tude to de­clare na­tional emer­gen­cies. But with Congress re­fus­ing Trump’s fund­ing de­mands, such a move would trig­ger le­gal chal­lenges and a po­lit­i­cal up­roar. Even many Repub­li­can law­mak­ers say that such a move would be a se­ri­ous over­reach of ex­ec­u­tive power.

Democrats uni­ver­sally re­ject the plan to con­struct a bar­rier.

“The pres­i­dent is fix­ated on a sense­less bor­der wall fight when we could be al­lo­cat­ing these funds to ac­tual crises in our na­tion like the opi­oid cri­sis,” said U.S. Rep. File­mon Vela, D­brownsville, who along with every con­gres­sional mem­ber with a bor­der dis­trict re­jects Trump’s wall pro­posal.

Trump ac­cused Democrats of turn­ing their back on na­tional se­cu­rity and a sit­u­a­tion at the bor­der that he de­scribes as a se­cu­rity and hu­man­i­tar­ian “cri­sis.”

“I re­ally don’t think they care about crime,” he as­serted. “They have gone crazy.”

On Satur­day, the par­tial gov­ern­ment shut­down will be­come the long­est in U.S. his­tory when it hits day 22.

Sens. Cruz and John Cornyn flew with Trump from Wash­ing­ton to Mcallen — a show of sol­i­dar­ity as he ma­neu­vers to keep Repub­li­cans in Congress in line.

Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick met them at the air­port, along with Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken Pax­ton.

“To those who say this is a man­u­fac­tured cri­sis, it’s a man­u­fac­tured cover­up by your op­po­si­tion,” Pa­trick said dur­ing Trump’s brief­ing in McAllen. “We need the wall.”

Dur­ing his meet­ing, Trump also said Pa­trick ad­vised him to be more clear about how Mex­ico will pay for the wall. Trump has con­sis­tently said, as a can­di­date and pres­i­dent, that Mex­ico would pay for the wall.

“When I say Mex­ico’s go­ing to pay for the wall,” he said. “I didn’t say they’re go­ing to write me a check for $10 bil­lion or $20 bil­lion. If Congress ap­proves this trade bill, they’ll pay for the wall many times over. When I say Mex­ico’s go­ing to pay for the wall, that’s what I mean.”

Trump sat down with Fox News host Sean Han­nity for an in­ter­view be­fore leav­ing Mcallen. Han­nity has pub­licly and pri­vately urged Trump to dig in on his de­mand for the wall, and his show is pop­u­lar with Trump’s po­lit­i­cal base.

“We’re go­ing to get that bar­rier done,” Trump told dozens of uni­formed Bor­der Pa­trol of­fi­cers in Mcallen after his brief­ing. “With­out it you can’t do as good as you do. It’s very sim­ple.”

The Val­ley

In vis­it­ing the Rio Grande Val­ley, Trump came to one of the most vi­brant re­gions of the south­ern bor­der. Mcallen, pop­u­la­tion 140,000, is boom­ ing thanks to cross­bor­der trade, and it boasts one of the low­est crime rates in the na­tion, a trait com­mon in most U.S. bor­der cities.

State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hi­no­josa, a Mcallen Demo­crat, re­jected Trump’s as­ser­tion that Democrats sup­port “open bor­ders.” While he agrees on the need for more bor­der agents, im­mi­gra­tion judges, hu­man­i­tar­ian aid and tech­nol­ogy to de­tect drugs and other con­tra­band, he said, bil­lions for a wall are “un­nec­es­sary.”

“There are al­ready strate­gi­cally lo­cated struc­tures, fences, and other bar­ri­ers that can be im­proved and en­hanced,” he said, urg­ing Trump “to fo­cus on bor­der se­cu­rity in­stead of a wall.”

Rick Cava­zos spent 24 years with the Bor­der Pa­trol. He’s now mayor of Los In­dios. Cava­zos said more se­cu­rity is needed along the bor­der, like in­creased per­son­nel, tech­nol­ogy and “some form of fenc­ing, but bor­der fenc­ing should be a tool, part of the tool box for agents, not the so­lu­tion.”

What con­cerns him most, he said, was us­ing the Rio Grande Val­ley re­gion as a prop for politi­cians, in­clud­ing Trump. “The at­ten­tion doesn’t re­ally help our im­age,” said Cava­zos, who said he lives about 100 yards from the bor­der. “Most im­mi­grants don’t stay in the area. The op­tics are not good for the eco­nom­ics of South Texas. The an­swer is for Congress to pass com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form.”

The area also is the epi­cen­ter of fam­ily sep­a­ra­tions — a cri­sis that stems from Trump’s pol­icy of press­ing crim­i­nal charges against every adult caught cross­ing the bor­der il­le­gally. Since 2014, Mcallen also has seen the ar­rival of hun­dreds of thou­sands of Cen­tral Amer­i­cans in fam­i­lies who, rather than evade au­thor­i­ties, turn them­selves in to claim fear of per­se­cu­tion and seek asy­lum.

Push­back

Mi­grant bor­der cross­ings are at a his­toric low. Most heroin en­ters the United States smug­gled in ve­hi­cles through heav­ily pa­trolled ports of en­try. Stud­ies show that im­mi­grants, law­ful and oth­er­wise, are far less likely to com­mit crimes than na­tive­born Amer­i­cans.

When Trump took his case to the Amer­i­can peo­ple on Tues­day night from the Oval Of­fice, he high­lighted sev­eral heinous mur­ders per­pe­trated by im­mi­grants in the coun­try il­le­gally.

Crit­ics, such as U.S. Rep. Joaquin Cas­tro, a San An­to­nio Demo­crat who chairs the Con­gres­sional His­panic Cau­cus, con­demn that tack as a con­tin­u­a­tion of a racist and xeno­pho­bic ap­peal be­gun when Trump launched his cam­paign by paint­ing Mex­i­cans as rapists and mur­der­ers.

State Demo­cratic Party chair­man Gil­berto Hi­no­josa, a Val­ley res­i­dent, con­demned Trump for “us­ing our com­mu­ni­ties for a po­lit­i­cal stunt.” He al­luded to the likely use of em­i­nent do­main to seize land and force own­ers off their prop­erty to make way for a wall.

“Tex­ans won’t sit idly by as Trump steals our land,” he said. “No one wants this wall and no one wants Trump’s shut­down.”

Bor­der­mex­ico cor­re­spon­dent Al­fredo Corchado re­ported from Mcallen. Wash­ing­ton Bureau chief Todd J. Gill­man re­ported from Wash­ing­ton.

Eric Gay/the As­so­ci­ated Press

Groups sup­port­ing and op­pos­ing a bor­der wall greeted Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump out­side the Mcallen In­ter­na­tional Air­port on Thurs­day.

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