“He goes back to what has been tested and what works for him,” said a local immigration lawyer.
MACELLON, Texas – Besieged by a political crisis after sparking a deadly Capitol uprising, President Donald Trump on Tuesday returned to one of the bread and butter problems that helped him eject into the office: the border wall.
Walking around the construction site near San Juan in South Texas, Trump seemed loyal to his former campaign, waving to supporters and hinting at the project’s progress as a political victory at a time when his legacy is hit hard.
“When I took office, we inherited a broken, dysfunctional and open border,” he told an audience in a short speech. “We have reformed our immigration system and reached the safest southern border in US history.”
In 2015, Trump said he would build the wall on nearly half of the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. But that number continues to decline. In his speech on the state of the Union in 2020, Trump said that by the beginning of 2021, “we will have over 500 miles completed.”
The total is currently about 450 miles.
“Unlike those who came before me, I kept my promises,” Trump said Tuesday. “And today we are celebrating an extraordinary stage: the completion of the promised 450-mile border wall.”
Although Trump’s initial promise was barely fulfilled, his supporters insisted the president was acquitted and celebrated his arrival. As his motorcade accelerated, Ilsa Zamora bounced up and down, two hands in the air, tears in her eyes. “This is my president, this is my president!” shouted the 45-year-old man.
But where Trump sees success, critics see the hallmarks of his four years in power – hundreds of immigrant children are still separated from their parents, the asylum system remains largely closed, and the immigrant community is still struggling to use it as a scapegoat. to provoke hatred during the campaign.
“It’s so insulting for him to come to South Texas, especially,” Efren Olivares, deputy legal director for immigration justice at Southern Poverty Act, told BuzzFeed News. “This is the epicenter of family divisions and where we have an immigrant refugee camp along the Rio Grande, just across the border from Mexico.”
“It goes back to what has been tested and what works for it,” Olivares added. “I think that’s why he’s here and then he’ll use every opportunity to keep talking about immigrants as criminals.”
Trump needs to focus on the pandemic that has hit South Texas hard, Olivares said. On Friday, the Rio Grande Valley was reassigned to a “high hospitalization area” by state health officials.
“Instead, he comes here to make a supposed prize-winning tour of a prize, a pointless project that wastes millions and millions of dollars,” Olivares said.
Laura Pena, a former immigration and customs enforcement attorney (ICE), said she believed Trump was encouraged to make the trip as a way to prevent him from causing further damage to the GOP after last week’s deadly uprising.
She grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and says the area has always been a place where you can almost immediately see the impact of immigration policies on the border. When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) entered into force in 1994, Pena began seeing children from other parts of Texas in her classrooms, children whose parents worked in Mexican factories just across the border.
Travel to Mexican cities like Matamoros is common because people have family and friends living on both sides of the border, Pena said.
“I have memories of going to Matamoros to eat, to dance, to go to dentists,” Pena said. “Then I have more recent memories of trying to give advice to a family that was recently abducted and tortured in the same area where I was going to celebrate the New Year two decades ago or near the dentist.”
She now works as an immigrant rights advocate and works with asylum seekers who are forced to wait in Mexico until their immigration cases in the United States are completed. Along with other lawyers and volunteers, Pena is trying to help immigrants, some of whom live in a miserable camp on the border, living in fear of being kidnapped or blackmailed by cartels.
She said it would take a long time in the Rio Grande Valley to wash away the stigma of a border zone in a crisis where families were torn apart and immigrants tortured in nearby Mexico after being left in trouble by Trump’s policies.
“The valley has been used as a pawn for the last four years, and that’s not us,” Pena said. “It was a breeding ground, a starting point for much of this atrocity. There was racism and phobias before Trump, but he definitely ignited a lot of those flames here, just as he did in other parts of the country, and that Trumpism really did take root here. “
But as the motorcade carried Trump past crowds of fiery ascetics waving flags, a visit in the waning days of his presidency left a different impression on Zamora.
“He started his campaign by saying it would be the wall, right?” she said. “Promises made, promises fulfilled.”