It started with the border wall and ended at the border wall.
After announcing his candidacy for president in 2015 by campaigning for stronger borders and a restrictive immigration policy, President Donald J. Trump made his second – and last presidential – visit to the Rio Grande Valley Tuesday.
The President held a press conference in Alamo to mark the 45th mile of new border wall that was constructed under his administration. The President previously visited the Valley in 2019 and his latest trip occurred with over a week to go before the inauguration of a new president.
News of his visit drew criticism from officials and local organizations, along with support from Trump’s growing fanbase in the Valley.
The President made his first public appearance since a riot broke out in the U.S. Capital last week that killed five people as Congress was certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
Trump has been accused of inciting the attack by holding a rally prior to the riot where he expressed support for those protesting the certification of the votes. Though Trump refused to take responsibility for the attack, he condemned those who participated in it.
“Millions of our citizens watched… as a mob stormed the Capitol and trashed the halls of government,” the President said Tuesday. “As I have consistently said throughout my administration, we believe in respecting America’s history and traditions, not tearing them down. We believe in the rule of law, not in violence or rioting.”
Due to his alleged involvement in inciting these attacks, as well as spending months spouting unfounded claims of voter fraud, Democrats are seeking to impeach the president. Trump called the proposed impeachment “an assault on free speech.”
“The 25th Amendment is of zero risk to me but will come back to haunt Joe Biden and the Biden administration,” the President said. “The impeachment hoax is a continuation of the greatest and most vicious witch hunt in the history of our country, and it 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.”
During his nearly 21-minute long speech, Trump focused on immigration issues and touted the construction of the border wall which he campaigned for.
“Looking at our wall, we reformed our immigration system and achieved the most secure southern border in U.S. history. It is at a level that it’s never been before,” Trump said. “It wasn’t easy getting it built. Getting it financed was tough. Getting it built was even tougher. All the different chains of title and all the different things we had to go through — very, very complex and very difficult, but we got it done.”
As part of his campaign, Trump promised the construction of up to 1,000 miles of new border wall throughout his administration that Mexico would pay for. Tuesday’s visit marked the completion of about 450 miles of border wall funded by the U.S. Government. According to a report from NBC News only 47 of the 450 miles represent brand new border wall structures along the 2,000-mile-long border area.
“I kept my promises,” Trump said, adding that an additional 300 miles of border wall will be added. “And today we celebrate an extraordinary milestone: the completion of the promised 450 miles of border wall. Four hundred and fifty miles. Nobody realizes how big that is.”
Trump’s visit drew several reactions, confusion among them.
Alamo City Manager Robert “Bobby” L. Salinas said in a statement that the city was never informed of the visit.
“The City of Alamo’s City Commission and City Administration has not been officially contacted regarding this visit and therefore, have no details regarding his itinerary,” the Monday statement read. “We are currently receiving many phone calls and emails regarding the President’s visit but as you can see, we cannot comment any further.”
Local officials such as Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez urged those attending any rallies or protests to do so peacefully and to maintain social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 2,600 county residents.
Other officials such as Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28) said Trump was not welcome in the Valley and should instead focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and the devastation is has brought to the county.
“Unless he is coming down to focus on these critical issues, he is not welcome here,” Cuellar stated. “However, in efforts to fulfill his campaign promise, President Trump has wasted our hard-earned tax dollars, destroyed wildlife and public lands, jeopardized historical landmarks, and seized private land. . .South Texas deserves better. America deserves better.”
Among the officials speaking out against Trump’s visit was Julian Castro, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, who was the keynote speaker at a rally held by the local non-profit La Union del Pueblo Entero.
Castro criticized Trump’s policies and actions for spreading division across the country.
“Just last week, all of us watched on January 6 as a mob of domestic terrorists stormed the United States Capitol to try and stop the legitimate transfer of power from one government to the next. This is what Donald Trump has wrought,” Castro said. “Today he is here to look at a few feet of wall that he is proud of building around us but the most significant thing about the Trump presidency is the wall he has built between neighbors and we’re here to say we’ve had enough of that division, hate and bigotry.”
LUPE held their rally Tuesday afternoon at the same time as Trump’s scheduled speech at the border wall where close to 100 people gathered in protest of the president and the border wall. Chants of LUPE’s motto “Si Se Puede,” as well as “No border wall” were spread throughout the peaceful rally.
The rally was held at LUPE’s San Juan headquarters, roughly 10 miles north of the border wall area where Trump was holding his speech. According to LUPE Director of Organizing Danny Diaz, the rally was meant to highlight the people of the border.
“The border isn’t defined by the wall, it’s defined by the millions of people living in it,” Diaz explained. “We’re Americans too, we also worry about the economy and jobs and for too long, this area has been pushed out of important conversations unless it’s for a photo op and it’s time for us to have a voice.”
LUPE released a petition calling for local officials to cancel Trump’s visit. It collected more than 3,500 signatures.
“It’s not a good time for the trip,” Diaz said. “Right now he’s going through potential impeachment proceedings and his supporters have committed violent acts throughout the country and we feel that could be a threat here. We cannot go toward Trump supporters because it could get very confrontational.”
Roughly nine miles west of the LUPE rally, hundreds of Trump supporters greeted the President throughout the day near the McAllen Miller International Airport where he flew in from Harlingen to travel to the border wall.
Many of them waited to see him since early in the morning and left after 3 p.m. when the President took off.
Among his supporters were Miguel Angel Beliz Zamora and his mother, Maria Elena. Miguel Angel held a sign reading “Ivanka 2024” and the two were hoping to catch a glimpse of Trump before he left.
Both of them were visiting the Valley on vacation from Mexico City when they heard of Trump’s visit last week.
“And we knew we had to be here for it,” Maria Elena said. “It’s a privilege to see him, he has the highest position in the world and it felt like luck that he was here offering us a chance to see him and we wouldn’t have to go toward Washington for it.”
Miguel Angel praised the president and defended him from his criticisms.
“A lot of those criticisms seem made up as if they just want to ruin him and his family so we need to continue to support him even from across the border,” Miguel Angel said. “As Christians, we believe he’s doing a good job of imparting those values to the American people. He cares about the country, people are complaining about the wall but at the end of the day, he’s doing it to protect his country.”