SAN JUAN — Local left-leaning activist groups are gearing up for President Donald Trump’s visit to the Rio Grande Valley on Thursday with no expectation that it will serve as anything more than a photo opportunity.
Trump appeared to confirm this, according to a recent report from the New York Times that cited the president stating as much.
“I think it’s offensive that Trump wants to use the Rio Grande Valley as a backdrop, but even more offensive that he’s not going to meet with people that are going to be affected by the construction,” said Scott Nicol, co-chair of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Campaign. “He really should talk to landowners. He should be willing to face the people whose lands will be stolen.”
Efrén Olivares, director for the Texas Civil Rights Project’s racial and economic justice program, shared a similar sentiment.
“In principle it would be a good thing,” Olivares said. “If he were coming to really see what the community thinks and how they feel about the border wall and meet with affected landowners, I would view it as a positive thing because it would reflect that the president and the administration really care about how their policies affect the community.”
Trump’s visit to the border comes as his demands for a wall grow stronger, refusing to support any bill to re-open the federal government that does not include $5.7 billion for a physical barrier.
“It’s particularly egregious that he’s coming in the middle of a government shutdown that he’s orchestrated,” said John-Michael Torres, the communications coordinator for La Union del Pueblo Entero, or LUPE. “He’s been demonstrating that he has very little regard for people who are being impacted by his policies, by the government shutdown.”
LUPE, along with other organizations such as the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, ACLU of Texas, the Texas Civil Rights Project, the American Federation of Government Employees, and the League of United Latin American Citizens are expected to participate in demonstrations Thursday during the president’s visit.
Supporters of the president are also expected to make a showing, with the Hidalgo County GOP planning to be at the McAllen Miller International Airport and Anzalduas County Park, where the president is believed to be making a stop.
Volunteers held a sign-making event Wednesday afternoon at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hidalgo County in preparation for anti-Trump protests.
Santiago Alanis, an advertising art director by day, showed up to make multiple signs in anticipation of the protests, fueled by the portrayal of the Valley as a dangerous place.
“Seeing that this is my hometown that is now being portrayed as a war zone,” Alanis said of his motivation, adding that friends from upstate often ask if he’s afraid of living near the border. “They feel like people are getting murdered here in the streets and it’s a lawless area, and it’s really not. It’s the crown jewel of Texas, really.”
In an address to the nation Tuesday night, Trump stressed the need for a wall to address the “crisis” at the southern border, citing the number of child migrants seeking asylum, but also listing crimes said to have been committed by undocumented immigrants.
Though he made no mention of it during his speech, Trump previously floated the idea of declaring a national emergency to bypass Congress.
“If that were to happen, there’s a lot of legal questions,” said Olivares of TCRP. “It would lead to litigation, it would perhaps exacerbate the existing constitutional crisis and it would be very problematic, so it’ll likely lead to litigation challenging the president’s declaration of a national emergency, because frankly there is none.”
However, border wall construction is already slated to begin next month in the Mission area after a March 2018 omnibus bill approved $1.57 billion for physical barriers and associated technology along the southwest border, including 90 miles of border wall system.
Of those 90 miles, 25 will be new levee wall to be built along the Rio Grande, while 8 miles will be bollard wall in Starr County.
“I do think that it’s cowardly for Trump to come and stand in front of a bunch of Border Patrol agents but not go and talk to Fred Cavazos,” Nicol said of a Mission landowner whose property sits on the banks of the river.
Nicol was also critical of Trump for not seeing “the land that will be walled-off in that area that got the first contract; to not talk to Marianna Treviño Wright about what the fate of the butterfly center would be; to not talk to Father Roy about what will happen to La Lomita.”
Treviño Wright is the executive director of the National Butterfly Center while Father Roy L. Snipes is a Catholic priest with Our Lady of Guadalupe church in Mission. La Lomita Chapel, the mother church to Our Lady of Guadalupe, is expected to be closed off by a potential border wall.
“If Trump wants to be president, he should act presidential. He should face up to the consequences of his actions,” Nicol said.
Staff Writer Lorenzo Zazueta-Castro contributed to this report.
IF YOU GO:
Protests being held Thursday:
RGV Equal Voice Network and partners
La Plaza Mall sidewalk across McAllen Miller International Airport
1413 Wichita Ave.
American Federation of Government Employees
Noon to 1 p.m.
Outside McAllen Miller International Airport
2500 S. Bicentennial Blvd.
11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m
Border Patrol Station
4400 S. Expressway 281