Trump’s planned border wall visit draws criticism, supporters to South Texas

Border Report

'He is not welcome here,' some say

A giant U.S. flag is flying in San Juan, Texas, where President Donald Trump is expected to visit and tour the border wall on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2020. (Sandra Sanchez/BorderReport)

ALAMO, Texas (Border Report) — In what could be his first public outing since last week’s riot and insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, President Donald Trump plans to visit a section of his acclaimed border wall on Tuesday in South Texas as many say he’s not welcome and don’t want him making what they call a “last stand” of his presidency in this border town.

Meanwhile, a contingency of Trump supporters is planning various events, including a Trump Train caravan to welcome him on Tuesday, according to several posts on social media.

“It’s pathetic and it is highlighting such destruction. So it’s not surprising that he’d be highlighting that as his one-trick pony that his administration would be admired for,” Melissa Cigarroa of the No Border Wall Coalition told Border Report on Monday.

Melissa Cigarroa

Cigarroa said she and border wall opponents will be driving three hours from Laredo, Texas, to join with the nonprofit La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE.) The organization, which is based in San Juan just miles from Alamo where Trump plans to visit, has launched an online petition and plans to protest the president’s arrival.

“After stoking mob violence at the Capitol, he has chosen our community to continue spewing his violence-inciting lies,” Daniel Diaz of LUPE wrote in emails touting the online petition. “We cannot allow Trump to bring his racist mob violence to the Rio Grande Valley. Local officials must denounce his visit, call on him to cancel, and refuse to coordinate his visit with DHS. Should any violence occur on Tuesday, all public officials who did nothing to stop this visit will be responsible.”

Diaz has called on on the mayors of Alamo and McAllen and Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra mayor to refuse cooperation with Trump’s visit “and demand they cancel his visit.”

“Our leaders who are sworn to protect us need to stop this visit before Trump brings the same violence we saw on Wednesday to the Valley,” said LUPE Executive Director Juanita Valdez-Cox.

But in a statement on Monday afternoon, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling refused to do so, writing: “It is not within my authority as Mayor of the City of McAllen or the authority of the City of McAllen government to prevent President Trump from coming to our city. I understand that emotions are high on both sides, for or against, the President and I hope that if there are demonstrations for or against, that they are peaceful with respect to our law enforcement personnel.”

Scott Nicol, a longtime South Texas environmentalist who used to chair the Sierra Club’s Borderlands, called Darling’s response “pathetic.” And he condemned Trump’s visit, telling Border Report: “Trump is desperate to change the narrative from his failed coup to his racist border wall. Trump does not care about the damage that his wall has inflicted upon border communities and ecosystems any more than he cares about the violence that his mob inflicted upon the Capitol.”

Scott Nicol

It’s uncertain exactly which section of the border wall Trump will visit on Tuesday. Border Patrol and security officials are keeping a tight lid on his planned whereabouts. The White House, however, released a statement indicating he will visit the town of Alamo, which is directly north of the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.

When Trump took office in 2017, this was the first place in South Texas where he wanted to begin constructing the new 30-foot-tall metal bollard wall. The 2,088-acre parcel of land hugs the looping Rio Grande on the border with Mexico, across the river from the bustling Mexican city of Reynosa.

But after several high-profile politicians, like former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat from Texas who was then running for U.S. Senate, came down to protest the border wall being built through this area, Congress passed legislation forbidding border wall construction through this national wildlife preserve.

The sign for Santa Ana National Wildlife Preserve is obscured by thick brush. The preserve is located on the border with Mexico just south of the town of Alamo, Texas, and could be the location for President Donald Trump’s visit on Jan. 12. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Nevertheless, the border wall is being built just feet from the eastern edge of the preserve, which is a key location in North America for migratory birds. And that has angered many local environmentalists and birders.

Jim Chapman, president of the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, has long protested the border wall being built in this area and voiced concerns last year when the Trump administration went onto preserve lands to cut back large swaths of brush and forest to make way for the adjacent border wall. A federal judge last April gave the Army Corps of Engineers approval to access the lands.

On Monday, Chapman lamented Trump coming north of the border, rather than south, where he said Trump could instead view asylum-seekers who are hoping to enter the United States but have been living in Mexican refugee camps waiting for years to make asylum claims.

Jim Chapman

“Too bad he couldn’t stay on the other side so he could experience the human misery he’s inflicted on people asking for asylum,” Chapman told Border Report.

“Trump brings division and violence wherever he goes, and the wall is an extension of that,” said No Border Wall activist Tannya Benavides of Laredo. “The border wall harms U.S. communities and is contrary to American values. To heal and repair our country, we need a clean break. The wall must be canceled.”

“It seems like his priorities are his priorities, not the community’s or the country’s,” U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told Border Report on Monday. “Hidalgo (County) has been hit very hard. There’s a lot of hospitalizations. A lot of people have died. A lot of people are sick. He should be talking about he can help rollout of the vaccine, but he’s here to talk about the fence and the wall.”

“We should be focused on healing our nation from the horrific events that took place at the Capitol, which he helped incite,” Cuellar said. “Unless he is coming down to focus on these critical issues, he is not welcome here.”

Cuellar said Trump “has wasted our hard-earned tax dollars” on the border wall. Cuellar is vice chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security and he has advocated that Congress repurpose the $1.75 billion it recently approved in the fiscal year 2021 spending bill for other border security measures, rather than continuing to build the border wall.

Acting Homeland Secretary Chad Wolf is seen signing a plaque in McAllen, Texas, on Oct. 29, 2020, to celebrate the completion of 400 miles of border wall built by the Trump administration. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Trump’s visit could coincide with impeachment proceedings against him that were begun on Monday.

Said LUPE’s Valdez-Cox: “Our community will not be used as a prop to distract the public from the accountability Trump is trying to avoid. They cannot allow the President to return to his tired playbook of demonizing border communities and putting their constituents at risk.”

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez (Courtesy Photo)

Several reports of two different Trump Train locations were circulating on social media, as well as posts against journalists and those who oppose the border wall. Wednesday’s rioting in Washington, D.C., left five people dead, including a police officer.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez on Monday afternoon urged the South Texas border community to remain calm. And he urged all visitors and residents to wear masks and to social distance because this county has had some of the highest coronavirus death rates in Texas.

“Passions are running dangerously high among supporters and opponents of President Trump. I urge both sides to keep those passions in check because ultimately the Rio Grande Valley has a unique opportunity to demonstrate to the world that peaceful public discourse is far more effective than public violence. We must remember that we all have a common and far more dangerous enemy: the COVID-19 virus. Our focus should be more on addressing this deadly threat than creating new threats amongst ourselves over political disagreements. If you choose to exercise your First Amendment rights, please do so peacefully and wear a facial covering while being mindful of physical distancing.”

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