Amid shutdown, Trump visits Texas to boost argument for border wall
mcallen, tex. — Driving home his claim that illegal crossings have created a national humanitarian and security crisis, President Trump on Thursday took his case for a border wall to this city in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the busiest regions of the southern border and the epicenter of his administration’s controversial family separations.
The visit came one day after Trump abruptly walked out of budget negotiations with Democrats in Washington aimed at ending 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, which he maintained would eventually be paid for by Mexico “many, many times over” through a new trade deal that has yet to be ratified by Congress.
“I didn’t mean, ‘Please write me a check,’ ” Trump said of his oftmade claim that Mexico would pay for the wall.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump’s campaign sent The Washington Post a memo detailing its plan for Mexico to make “a onetime payment of $5-10 billion” to pay for the border wall.
Even if approved by Congress, the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal would not necessarily contribute more money to federal coffers, as countries do not “lose” money on trade deficits.
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’s two U.S. senators, Republicans 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 T. 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 United States illegally. Trump has fre- quently sought to rally public support for his immigration message at events with “angel families,” the term his administration uses for those affected by crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.
Cruz, who was a fierce rival of Trump’s during the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, 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, one of the president’s friends and outside advisers.
Trump’s visit to McAllen put him a few miles away from where the Army established early in November a base camp in the town of Donna 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.
But in one major sign that that operation is winding down, the military has withdrawn all troops from South Texas, including at the camp in Donna. Troops involved in border support in Texas are now all based in San Antonio, where they are assigned to a headquarters, said Mike Kucharek, a military spokesman. The military closed Base Camp Donna near McAllen shortly before Christmas, about five weeks after Nielsen and thenDefense Secretary Jim Mattis visited soldiers there.
Trump’s visit to the southern border has been orchestrated to convey urgency about building a wall and comes as the president is weighing whether to declare a national emergency at the border — a risky move that would trigger executive powers for him to construct the wall without congressional approval but also invite court challenges and political blowback.
“I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency,” Trump told reporters as he left the White House to fly to Texas. “I haven’t done it yet. I may do it. If this doesn’t work out, probably I will do it. I would almost say definitely.”
Trump said that he is not ready yet to declare an emergency and that he prefers 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.”
McAllen 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, and a place where U.S. authorities have struggled to cope with a migration shift from single adults to families, teens and children.
Trump’s first stop Thursday was McAllen’s Border Patrol station. Its holding cells became so overcrowded during a 2014 crisis that the government bought a nearby warehouse, converting it into a processing center for families and children.
Trump is not planning to visit that facility, whose chain-link detention pens were likened to cages during the president’s “zero-tolerance” crackdown last spring, when the government separated thousands of migrant children from their parents until a public outcry forced the White House to stop.
The president’s itinerary Thursday also took him to the Rio Grande and to the banks of the winding river, where the Trump administration plans to add dozens of miles of fencing. Because of the river’s meandering course, the barriers would be built primarily along flood levees, potentially leaving private farms and ranches in a no man’s land between the barrier and the border.
Large tracts of private property would have to be acquired by the government to create space for the wall and service roads, driving up construction costs, and several farmers and ranchers in the McAllen area say they will challenge the administration’s plan in court.
Thursday’s visit was Trump’s second to the U.S.-Mexico border as president. Last year, he traveled to the San Diego area, where he viewed wall prototypes. First lady Melania Trump traveled to the McAllen area last year amid the family-separations crisis to visit migrant children at a border shelter.