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Trump Returns To Texas-Mexico Border, Joins Gov. Abbott To Champion Wall Construction

Trump visits the U.S.-Mexico border
Former U.S. President Donald Trump and Texas Governor Greg Abbott exit the stage after visiting an unfinished section of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border in Pharr, Texas, U.S. June 30, 2021. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

Former President Donald Trump returned to the U.S.-Mexico border Wednesday. He was invited to attend a border security briefing hosted by Gov. Greg Abbott in Weslaco.

The last time Trump visited the Rio Grande Valley was in January, when he used the final trip of his presidency to autograph an incomplete border wall. Now, Abbott has pledged to continue construction of that same wall in Texas using state dollars and a crowdfunding campaign.

“We’ve already begun clearing out land, acquiring land, and we’re going to begin the process of putting the border wall up just like President Trump did and just like President Biden should be doing,” Abbott said at a press conference in the Rio Grande Valley.

At the border security briefing, McAllen's new Republican mayor, Javier Villalobos, was the only local official invited from the Rio Grande Valley, which is the most heavily-crossed area on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Abbott and Trump also held a press conference by the border wall near Pharr, Texas. Fox News personality Sean Hannity held a town hall in the area Wednesday afternoon, featuring Abbott and Trump.

Trump spoke for most of the press conference in Weslaco, emphasizing familiar talking points from his past presidential campaign speeches. Trump also criticized the Biden administration for not moving forward with construction of the wall. He claimed a second term as president would have made it possible to complete the project.

Former President Trump joins Texas Governor Abbott at Mexico border briefing in Weslaco, Texas
Texas Governor Greg Abbott addresses former U.S. President Donald Trump as Trump attends a border security briefing with the governor to discuss security at the U.S. southern border with Mexico in Weslaco, Texas, U.S. June 30, 2021. Brandon Bell/Pool via REUTERS

“Within two months everything could have been completed. It would have been painted,” Trump said. He also claimed his administration built more than 500 miles of border wall. Many experts have pointed out that only 47 miles of primary wall were built under Trump, with the other 472 miles of fencing constructed during previous administrations.

While Abbott and Trump spent the day emphasizing the need for a wall to address migration, local leaders and advocacy organizations on the border pushed back on their proposed security strategy.

At the end of May, Abbott issued a disaster declaration for 34 counties in response to a recent rise in migration in the area.

Former President Trump joins Texas Governor Abbott at Mexico border briefing in Weslaco, Texas
Former U.S. President Donald Trump greets law enforcement officers while arriving at a border security briefing with Texas Governor Greg Abbott to discuss security at the U.S. southern border with Mexico in Weslaco, Texas, U.S. June 30, 2021. Brandon Bell/Pool via REUTERS

However, that number was reduced to 28 this week after all four counties in the Rio Grande Valley refused to issue similar declarations at Abbott’s request. Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño told Rio Grande Guardian that there are neither the trespassing complaints nor the jail space to justify Abbott’s plan to aggressively apprehend migrants.

Immigration advocacy organizations have said they see Abbott’s recent announcements about the wall and the disaster declaration at the border as symbolic and politically motivated.

La Union Del Pueblo Entero, or LUPE, an immigration advocacy group based in the Rio Grande Valley, held a community town hall on Wednesday in response to Abbott and Trump's border visit.

“All four Rio Grande Valley counties are out of this Abbott disaster declaration. The county judges listened to border residents. They looked at the facts and unanimously agreed that there is no border crisis,” said LUPE organizing director Danny Diaz at the town hall.

“So this begs the question — why is Abbott and Trump even here today if not to use our homes and people as props for their own political greed?” he added.

LUPE was joined by more than 20 border-based advocacy organizations from El Paso to Brownsville. Their missions range from labor rights to humanitarian aid, and voting rights.

Lupe Community Town Hall In Response To Trump And Abbott Border Visit
Pablo De La Rosa
La Union Del Pueblo Entero held a community town hall on Wednesday morning in response to Governor Greg Abbott and former President Donald Trump’s visit.

"You have a governor who wants to spend money and waste money on a border wall that's not needed," said State Rep. Armando Martinez, who attended the conference. "Especially when we're probably one of the safest areas in the nation.”

Cindy Andrade Johnson, a deaconess at the local United Methodist Church, also criticized Trump's and Abbott's rhetoric.

“I feel like we’re being used as pawns against our community,” she said.

LUPE Community Town Hall On Trump and Abbott's Visit To The Rio Grande Valley
Sergio Treviño
Community members attend a LUPE Community Town Hall On Trump and Abbott's Visit To The Rio Grande Valley.

Villalobos, the McAllen mayor, was encouraged by Trump's and Abbott's visits to the Valley, But he didn't agree with how Abbott described the region's problems.

“I don't necessarily see it as a border crisis," Villalobos explained. "I see it more as an immigration crisis, which affects the whole country.”

He added that he was motivated by the attention the Valley has received from the media and from legislators, and he hoped that federal officials will see that the problem isn’t just with the wall.

“Whether there's a wall, whether there's more boots on the ground, the real way to fix it is going to be with legislation in Washington,” Villalobos said.

But in the end, the mayor explained, there is only one way to properly confront the region's biggest challenges: immigration reform.

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Carolina Cuellar reports for Texas Public Radio from the city of McAllen where she covers business and border issues. Her position is made possible by Report For America — a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
Pablo De La Rosa is a freelance journalist reporting statewide with Texas Public Radio and nationally with NPR from the Texas-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley, from where he originates. He’s the host of the daily Spanish-language newscast TPR Noticias Al Día.