McALLEN — The motorcade rumbled over the flood levee, where construction on President Donald Trump’s border wall is expected to begin next month, and across Anzalduas Park along the Rio Grande. Flanked by Texas’ two senators, Trump walked to a barren patch of scrub overlooking the river, and the top U.S. Border Patrol agent in South Texas showed the president what he came here to see.
“I don’t even need to say any more,” Trump said. “He said it perfectly.”
On display in front of an armored truck, the agent had just showed Trump bundles of seized narcotics, with agents wielding riot shields to the sides. Minutes before, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter flew in and hovered over the river and Trump saluted the authorities on board.
Trump, appearing pleased with what he saw, took questions from the press for more than 10 minutes, with U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz behind him. He blamed Democrats for the government shutdown, for illegal immigration and for not supporting the federal law enforcement alongside him throughout this three-hour, two-stop tour of the Rio Grande Valley on Thursday.
Also joining Thursday’s tour were adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Communications Director Bill Shine, Fox News personality Sean Hannity, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan.
Trump has called the current state of the border a humanitarian and national security crisis, something many local residents disagree with the president on. County judges, mayors and other officials wrote a letter to Trump this week inviting him to visit what they deemed necessary spots for him to see, rather than the president confirming what he already believed. Trump did not indulge their request, nor did he Sister Norma Pimentel’s offer to visit the Catholic Charities-operated humanitarian respite center in McAllen.
“He’s trying to create a crisis so he can get his wall,” Sister Norma Pimentel said this week. She wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post inviting Trump to the respite center, but he did not visit. Pimentel was on-hand for Trump’s roundtable conversation at the Border Patrol station in south McAllen, but she was not given a seat at the U-shaped table.
Instead, Cornyn, Cruz, Nielsen, McAleenan and an array of federal officials sat at the table and talked to the president about the need for a border wall. Carlos Rodriguez, who runs CBP operations at multiple Hidalgo County bridges, was the only local official at the table.
Sitting in front of Trump were bundles of narcotics, weapons and cash displayed prominently on tables, which the president encouraged the news media on hand to take note. Included in the display was a .50 caliber rifle pointed directly at a Texas rancher in a cowboy hat seated nearby.
As Rodriguez made his way from bundle to bundle, he explained how the personnel and technology at the local international bridges detected and thwarted the smuggling attempts. Once the wall begins construction in Hidalgo County next month, as Border Patrol has announced, none of it will bisect any international bridge, where a majority of the drugs cross into the United States.
Cornyn and Cruz know this, and both emphasized the importance of increasing infrastructure, technology and staffing at the bridges. They also know that, as the president claimed multiple times on Thursday, that Mexico will likely not pay for the wall.
“They’re not going to write a check for $20 billion, or 10 or 5,” Trump said.
At an event in Mission at the Anzalduas International Bridge after the tour with Trump, the senators were asked about Mexico paying for the wall. They laughed, and declined comment.
Down the street an hour earlier, in front of the armored truck, Trump said his opinions about the border were reinforced on Thursday, but there’s nothing like meeting the agents on the ground.
But did he meet with anyone locally who disagreed with the wall?
“No,” said Trump, who departed McAllen Miller International Airport at around 3:55 p.m.
His visit, which began when Air Force One landed at the airport around 12:45 p.m., marked only the sixth occasion in which a sitting U.S. president has visited the Valley.