Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday joined Texas’ top state leaders at the U.S.-Mexico border to slam the Biden administration’s immigration policies during a visit to the “unfinished border wall.”
Trump, who made immigration restrictions and border security a staple of his administration, applauded Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to construct a state-funded border wall, while pushing for a return to the hardline immigration policies, that he implemented during his presidency. Trump also reiterated his endorsement of Abbott for reelection while speaking with reporters.
“We have an open, really dangerous border,” Trump said during a news conference at the Department of Public Safety’s Weslaco headquarters. “We better go back fast.”
Abbott, who is up for reelection in 2022, has made border security his top issue this year, spending much of the first half of the year railing against what he calls the Biden administration’s “open border policies” and declaring a state of disaster in dozens of Texas counties due to an increase of apprehensions at the country’s southern border.
That declaration allowed him to tap $250 million of state funds to kickstart the construction of a border wall, continuing a migration mitigation strategy initially pushed by Trump during his presidential campaign. Standing in front of an unfinished section of the border wall, Abbott called on the federal government to continue its construction.
“You look at this border, and you [know] what you see? You see an unfinished border,” Abbott said. “This is Biden’s fault because President Biden is not continuing what President Trump began. President Biden needs to start right there and finish building the border wall.”
Abbott continued to hammer the Biden administration on Wednesday, saying its immigration policies had resulted in an increase of migrants and illegal drugs entering the country. He praised Trump for his work on the border, calling him a “great friend.”
“One of the things that he did better than anything else and definitely better than any other president is he stepped up, and he secured our border and kept Texas and Americans safe,” Abbott said.
Abbott’s rhetoric was similar to that used by Trump during his own push for a border wall. Without specifying, he alluded to ranchers who have had guns pointed at them by people crossing their property, and said homes were being “invaded.”
“The people coming across the border are cartels and gangs and smugglers & human traffickers,” Abbott said.
For his part, Trump revived talking points from his political rallies saying that he had overseen “the best border we’ve ever had in the history of our country” and falsely stating his administration had stopped human trafficking.
Trump also said without offering proof that unspecified countries release their “murderers, rapists, drug dealers and human traffickers” who then flock to the United States.
Democrats denounced the Abbott-Trump border tour as political theater and argued the governor should be more focused on fixing the state's power grid. State lawmakers made some progress during the regular legislative session that wrapped up last month, but experts say there is still much more work to do.
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen, who represents a border district in the Rio Grande Valley, said in a statement that Abbott inviting Trump to the region is "nothing short of a slap in the face to South Texans." In a news conference Wednesday morning, Gonzalez zeroed in on the state funding that Abbott has diverted to finish the border wall that began under Trump.
"I think if you take any poll in the state you would find people would much rather have that money spent fixing the electrical grid in the middle of a scorching hot summer," Gonzalez said. "We're still very, very worried."
Gonzales is a top target for national Republicans in 2022, after Democrats underperformed in the last election. He said in the statement that he wants Abbott to focus on the root causes of mass migration from Central American countries, and at the news conference, he argued he is "not for open borders" but wants to see "intelligent border security."
Trump received praise from most of the attendees at the border security briefing, which included law enforcement and former Trump administration immigration officials, as well as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Many of the state’s top officials are vying for a Trump endorsement in next year’s election. Abbott has already secured his endorsement in a primary challenge from former Dallas state senator Don Huffines, who has slammed Abbott for not securing the border and first introduced the idea of a state-funded border wall.
Paxton, a Trump ally, is also facing two primary challengers in Land Commissioner George P. Bush, another Trump ally, and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. Trump has said he will make an endorsement in that race.
State Rep. James White, R-Hilister, who announced Wednesday he will challenge Republican incumbent Sid Miller, a Trump ally, for agriculture commissioner also attended the event.
Abbott on Wednesday again criticized Vice President Kamala Harris for not visiting the Rio Grande Valley during her visit to Texas last week to discuss the border. Harris instead visited El Paso, a city which experienced the influx of hundreds of migrant children who had been separated from their parents during Trump’s administration.
Harris also said she was focused on addressing the root causes of migration and highlighted her recent trips to Guatemala and Mexico to work with those governments on migration mitigation.
“There's one place to solve all the problems on the border, and that is on the border,” Abbott said. “That's exactly where the Biden administration needs to devote their resources to get the job done.”
Abbott touted his disaster declaration to reduce illegal immigration, which legal groups like the ACLU of Texas has said is legally dubious. He has pushed for using state funds to construct a border wall, having Department of Public Safety troopers arrest migrants for state offenses, and closing child care facilities that hold undocumented immigrants in the state.
Law enforcement officials said a porous border was contributing to an increase in illegal drugs in the country, even in places hundreds of miles from the border. Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn said fentanyl produced by Mexican drug cartels was flooding his region.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment, fentanyl seizures have been increasing along the southwest border since at least the 2016 fiscal year. Between 2018 and 2019, when Trump was president, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported a 62% increase in seizures along the southwest border from 745 kilograms to 1,208 kilograms. Most of the seizures in 2019 were at ports of entry, which are patrolled by federal officers.
Under Trump, the country also saw increases in immigration, with a high of 150,000 apprehensions at the border in one month in 2019 compared to the highest during the Biden administration last month of about 180,000.
Still, Trump touted an impervious border during his administration saying fentanyl was a “non-factor” and said Biden has let security fall off. But he also issued a warning to Texas officials who plan to build a state-funded wall.
Trump cautioned that during his attempts to build 450 miles of border wall and implement policies that turned back migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic or separated migrant children from their parents who were prosecuted by the Justice Department, his efforts were slowed by legal challenges from landowners, politicians, immigrants rights groups and civil rights organizations. He said he was in office two and half years before border wall construction could begin.
“A couple of you people said that, 'Well, we could start it immediately.' Well, it's not gonna go fast,” he said. “It’s not that easy.”
Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.