ALAMO, Texas – President Donald Trump visited the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas on Tuesday, trumpeting one of the pillars of his presidency: his campaign against illegal immigration and building a wall along the southern border.
It’s Trump’s first time appearing in public since a violent mob of his supporters sieged the nation’s Capitol last week in an effort to halt the peaceful transition of power.
Trump delivered remarks in Alamo, highlighting his administration’s efforts to curb illegal immigration and the progress made on his signature 2016 campaign promise: building a “big, beautiful wall” across the length of the southern border — an imposing structure made of concrete and reinforced steel. But over time, Trump demanded modifications that have been largely rejected: He wanted it painted black to burn the hands of those who touched it; he wanted it adorned with deadly spikes; he even wanted to surround it with an alligator-filled moat. While he promised that it would be funded by Mexico, U.S. taxpayers ended up footing the bill.
In the end, his administration has overseen the construction of roughly 450 miles of border wall construction — likely reaching 475 miles by Inauguration Day. The vast majority of that wall replaces smaller barriers that had already existed, though the new wall is considerably more difficult to bypass.
Over the last four years, Trump and his administration have taken extreme — and often unlawful — action to try to curb both illegal and legal immigration. Their efforts were aided in his final year by the coronavirus pandemic, which ground international travel to a halt. But the number of people stopped trying to cross the southern border illegally has been creeping back up in recent months. Figures from December show nearly 74,000 encounters at the southwest border, up 3% from November and up 81% from a year earlier.
A few dozen Trump supporters rallied hours before his visit to the Rio Grande Valley near the Harlingen airport, where he was scheduled to land. They planned to stage a caravan of vehicles flying flags that support the president and far-right causes like the QAnon conspiracy theory.
President Donald Trump greets supporters as he arrives on Air Force One at Valley International Airport, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, in Harlingen, Texas. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Trump warned that a reversal of his policies by Biden would bring about a “tidal wave of illegal immigration.” He added, “To terminate those policies is knowingly to put America in really serious danger.”
Biden has said he’d halt construction of the border wall and take executive action where possible to reverse some of Trump’s restrictions on legal immigration and asylum seekers. But Biden and his aides have acknowledged the possibility of a new crisis at the border if they act too quickly, and Biden has said it could take six months for his administration to secure funding and put in place the necessary infrastructure to loosen Trump-era restrictions.
Beyond touting the wall, Trump rapidly listed his massive changes on the border aimed at discouraging asylum. He cited his “Remain in Mexico” policy, under which more than 65,000 asylum-seekers have been forced to wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court since January 2019, and agreements struck with Central American countries for them to offer asylum to people seeking protection in the United States.
He credited his wall for a drop in illegal border crossings from a 13-year high in 2019, but the Government Accountability Office has found the administration lacks measures to correlate drops in illegal crossings to wall construction.
Trump said, falsely, that he inherited “open borders” from his predecessor, Barack Obama. He leaves office with about the same number of Border Patrol agents than when he began, despite a pledge to add 5,000, and the monthly number of migrants stopped at the border exceeds totals during much of Obama’s tenure.
He said, “be careful of what you wish for” as House lawmakers consider a resolution calling on Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to declare the president unable to serve.
Pence is not expected to take any such action, regardless of the vote.
“The 25th Amendment is of zero risk to me, but will come back to haunt Joe Biden and the Biden administration,” he said. “As the expression goes, be careful of what you wish for.”
After voting on the resolution, the House will proceed with legislation to impeach Trump. The president said the effort is causing “tremendous, anger and division and pain, far greater than most people will ever understand, which is very dangerous for the USA, especially at this very tender time.”
Earlier Tuesday, Trump also addressed last week’s riot at the Capitol.
“We believe in the rule of law, not in violence or rioting,” he said.