By DAVID LOPEZ
Special to the PRESS
McAllen — Hundreds of protestors and an almost equal amount of supporters lined the roadway leading to McAllen–Miller International Airport Thursday as Air Force One carrying President Donald Trump, his staff and the White House traveling press corps landed on the tarmac at precisely 12:50 p.m. Thursday afternoon.
The president visited the U.S. Border Patrol McAllen Station where he participated in a roundtable discussion on immigration and border security, as well as Anzalduas Park, a 96-acre county-owned park along the Rio Grande known for its rich wildlife.
The park is one of several public spaces which are expected to be severely impacted should the government follow through on construction of the border wall championed by the Trump administration.
Trump’s arrival comes after a government shutdown entered its third week. The shutdown stems from a disagreement between Republicans and Democrats on funding for Trump’s proposed border wall. The president has said that he will veto any bill that does not include an estimated $5.7 billion for the wall, though Democrats remain staunchly opposed to wall funding. According to reports, 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or are working without pay and will not receive their next paychecks until the government reopens.
During a televised address to the nation on Tuesday, Jan. 9, the president urged the public to support further border security through building a wall. “America proudly welcomes millions of lawful immigrants who enrich our society and contribute to our nation. But, all Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration,” Trump said during his televised address. He argued that illegal immigration places a strain on jobs, wages and resources.
On Thursday, Trump arrived in McAllen accompanied by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), as well as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
“I join President Trump in McAllen today and I truly appreciate him coming to Texas to underscore the crisis at the southern border and immediate urgency of his border security plan. It is time for his opponents to put aside the partisan games and address this very real crisis. The president’s comprehensive plan to build a wall where it is needed, along with additional funding for narcotics detection, additional detention beds and additional immigration judges to handle the deluge of asylum applications and immigration cases, is critical to Texas and the country and Congress should act immediately to fund it,” Patrick said via a prepared statement.
“Illegal immigration costs Texas taxpayers billions of dollars every year in healthcare, education and law enforcement as well as direct spending on border security. In 2018 alone, over 500,000 illegal aliens were apprehended crossing the border illegally — 300,000 of those were in Texas. Law enforcement experts confirm that these numbers represent only 20-25 percent of the people entering our country illegally,” the lieutenant governor continued.
Trump’s arrival was met with myriad supporters and protesters, both groups gathered outside of La Plaza Mall close to the airport hours prior to the President’s arrival.
Donna resident Rosario Zavala described illegal immigration as her top issue. “I am here because I support Donald Trump 110 percent. He is the only one that has come across and done what needs to be done. He didn’t need this headache; he’s a rich man. He’s doing it because he loves the country,” Zavala said. “Have you seen the people here? There’s nothing but illegals. And they get all the freebies. They get food stamps, they get healthcare, and we get heck.”
Zavala was one of the president’s many supporters, while across the street stood an equal and opposite reaction.
Bianca Castro, a University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley student and organizer with the RGV No Border Wall movement, talked about the importance of showing opposition. “It’s important that we show up and show out for our raza (people) because they are who make up our community, and the community must unite as a class,” she said. “It’s important to tell those who think this place is a crime zone and that we are less than human that we will not let our voices be silenced,” she said.
According to FBI statistics, McAllen ranks seventh among safest US cities — a point McAllen’s historic Cine El Rey theater, located in downtown McAllen, spelled out on its outside marquee prior to the president’s visit.
During his roundtable briefing with border agents, Trump was shown how traffickers have tunneled under the wall lining the border area which was erected under former President George H.W. Bush, as part of the national response to 9/11. “This is just a couple of miles from here. This is a tunnel,” the agent explained while pointing to photographs of the tunnel.
“This is the second tunnel we recently have located. This is an area that actually has wall and we have some technology and agents. That piece of area is really important to the criminal organization. We’re doing such a great job utilizing the right resource in that area that they’ve become so frustrated that they’re using other tactics. They’re actually digging tunnels. This is about 25 feet long, about two to three feet high,” he said.
Trump also visited the Rio Grande at Anzalduas Park where he was briefed on border security while standing alongside border patrol officials and local law enforcement.
“They’ve done an incredible job, but we all want to see a wall, a barrier, because it’s going to make their job a lot easier and hopefully they’ll be more effective than they already are. They’re doing record setting work but it’s hard and it’s dangerous. We can save so many lives. We can save the drugs, the human trafficking, all of the things that pour into our country. It’s so terrible when you look — gangs, MS–13. It won’t happen. They’ll (law enforcement) will be helped so much,” Trump said.
The president departed from McAllen for Washington D.C. at approximately 4 p.m.
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