WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — After days out of sight following the Capitol siege, President Donald Trump traveled to Texas to highlight one of the pillars of his presidency: his campaign against illegal immigration.
Trump flew Tuesday to Alamo, Texas, a city in the Rio Grande Valley near the U.S-Mexican border. The city is named after the San Antonio mission where a small group of Texan independence-fighters fended off Mexican forces during a 13-day siege. Most of them died but the mission became a symbol of resistance for Texans, who eventually defeated the Mexican army.
Trump’s visit comes as he spends the final days of his presidency facing the prospect of a second impeachment after some of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol last week in an effort to halt the peaceful transition of power, fueled by baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud and conspiracies.
Aides have been urging the president to instead use the days he has left in office to highlight what they see as the chief accomplishments of his presidency: a massive tax cut, his efforts to roll back federal regulations and the transformation of federal courts with the appointment of conservative judges.
The trip marked the first time Trump has been seen in public since the speech he delivered to his supporters Wednesday, telling them to “fight” before the Capitol violence.
Trump highlighted 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. 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.
“We have ended the immigration chaos and re-established American sovereignty,” Trump said while standing before a portion of the wall. “Our most important reform was ending catch and release — not easy to do. This policy was exploited by vicious criminal organizations who understood the law.”
Trump also signed a plaque on the border wall during Tuesday’s visit.
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 action 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 as they try 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.
Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, has warned the next administration that easing Trump administration policies, including a halt to wall construction, would lead to a surge of people seeking to cross the border, creating “an unmitigated crisis in the first few weeks.”
Trump warned Tuesday that reversing any of his administration’s immigration policies would result in a “tidal wave of immigrants.”
“It would destroy millions and millions of jobs and claim thousands of innocent lives,” he said. “The policies I put into place are uniformly and strongly supported by the men and women of ICE and Border Patrol. We worked on them together.”
President-elect Joe 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.
Tuesday’s trip was met with mixed emotions from Texas lawmakers. Some see his farewell tour as a distraction. Others deemed it necessary in the continued fight to address the country’s immigration system.
“Border security is an important issue in District 23 — with over 800 miles of Texas and Mexican border. I appreciate the president’s leadership on this issue,” said Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales.
Some Democrats viewed it differently.
“We’re seeing this as another example of how he’s [President Trump] trying to deflect from the real issues that we have — fighting the pandemic and healing the country together,” said Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar.
Missing from the trip is Chad Wolf, Trump’s acting Department of Homeland Security secretary. He abruptly resigned Monday, days after he pledged to serve out Trump’s full term.
After the Capitol violence, groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center urged Trump to call off his visit.
“The violence Trump incited last week, and the violence his anti-immigrant policies cause stem from the alarming mainstreaming of white nationalist ideology that our country must reckon with and fight to uproot,” said Efrén Olivares, deputy legal director of the center’s Immigrant Justice Project. “The president’s planned trip to the border will only further the harm and beget more violence.”
Reporting by The Associated Press’ Jill Colvin. AP writers Ben Fox and Alexandra Jaffe in Washington and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.