After days out of sight following the Capitol siege, President Donald Trump travels to Texas to trumpet one of the pillars of his presidency: his campaign against illegal immigration.
Trump will be flying 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 — no doubt a symbol of the president’s defiance — comes as he spends the final days of his presidency isolated, aggrieved and staring down the prospect of a second impeachment after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol last week in an effort to halt the peaceful transition of power.
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. But Trump has repeatedly resisted their efforts as he has remained ensconced in the White House, behind closed doors, consumed by baseless allegations of voter fraud and conspiracies.
Indeed, the trip will mark the first time Trump has been seen in public since the speech he delivered to his supporters Wednesday, egging them on to “fight” before the Capitol violence.
Trump is expected to deliver remarks highlighting 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.
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 extreme — and often unlawful — action to try 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 trying 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.”
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.
Missing from the trip will be 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.”