McAllen, Texas (Border Report) — In his State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, President Donald Trump reaffirmed his commitment to build hundreds more miles of border wall on the Southwest border, end sanctuary cities and thwart human traffickers and those who come to the United States illegally.
Touting his speech as “The Great American Comeback,” Trump spent a majority of his 90 minutes before Congress espousing the economic gains his administration has achieved during the past three years. But, sprinkled within repeated examples of economic prosperity, factory additions and plugs for more school choices, he reiterated the need to block migrants from illegally entering the United States, citing their criminal record, drain on American healthcare resources and their inability to migrate lawfully through the U.S. court system.
“Before I came into office, if you showed up illegally and were arrested, you were simply allowed to be released into our country never to be seen again. My administration has eliminated catch and release,” Trump said. “Our borders are secure, our families are flourishing, our values are renewed and our pride restored … the state of our union is stronger than ever before.”
Trump said that healthcare for non-citizens “would raid the Medicare benefits of our seniors … and be a powerful lure for illegal immigration.”
My administration has undertaken an unprecedented effort to secure the southern border of the United States.”President Donald Trump
He called the building of a barrier along the Southwest border “a long, tall and very powerful wall” and said over 100 miles have so far been built. He said he expects 500 miles to be built within the year.
“My administration has undertaken an unprecedented effort to secure the southern border of the United States,” Trump said to repeated standing ovations from half of the gallery.
Others, like Jonathan Salinas, a member of the Sierra Club Borderlands Campaign, which opposes border walls, were not as impressed by that part of his speech.
“President Donald Trump’s comments at tonight’s State of the Union address were out of touch with reality and filled with animus towards migrants,” Salinas said. “Trump said, for example, that his border wall currently being built was very powerful. We know this is untrue as just last week, a section of newly constructed bollard border wall in California gave way to strong winds, landing on the Mexican side.”
Paul Perez, president of the National Border Patrol Council – Local 3307, which includes the Rio Grande Valley said: “The Rio Grande Valley’s Local of the National Border Patrol Council can attest to the truth behind the statements made by President Trump during the SOTU address tonight. We know better than anyone how much his policies and, in some cases, just his words alone, have changed the border mission as we know it. Never before have we been as empowered to do the job the way it’s supposed to be done, free of political and ideological roadblocks. The men and women on the front lines know the best way to secure the border, and under his administration, we’ve been given the freedom and the tools necessary to finally secure the border the right way.”
Never before have we been as empowered to do the job the way it’s supposed to be done, free of political and ideological roadblocks. The men and women on the front lines know the best way to secure the border, and under his administration, we’ve been given the freedom and the tools necessary to finally secure the border the right way. “Paul Perez, National Border Patrol Council Local 3307
“The wall, as evident in the locations where it currently stands, will undoubtedly continue to serve as a very effective physical deterrent and as a necessary tool in our fight to control our borders and protect our nation. We need the support of Congress in order to ensure that the policies that drive illegal immigration to our borders are changed through legislation that creates a fair and merit-based immigration system,” Perez said.
Trump touted “historic” Asylum Cooperation Agreements, or ACAs with several Latin American countries that have agreed to accept deported migrants from the United States, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. He also credited a dramatic decrease of migrant apprehensions by over 70% since the summer to these agreements, as well as tougher entry policies implemented by the Department of Homeland Security.
“If you come illegally, you will now be promptly removed from our country,” Trump said.
He repeatedly recognized the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency of DHS, as well as U.S. Border Patrol, but did not specifically name U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the DHS agency that is in charge of U.S. ports of entry and the screening of migrants there.
Trump also congratulated the newly named Deputy Chief of Border Patrol Raul Ortiz, who in the past decade was the Deputy Chief Patrol Agent of the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector in South Texas, and most recently was Chief Patrol Agent of the Del Rio, Texas, Border Patrol sector.
“We are Americans, we are pioneers. We are the path finders. We settle the new world and we embrace the eternal truth that everyone is created equal by the hand of the almighty God,” Trump said toward the end of his speech.
Several people from South Texas who were watching the speech took issue with Trump’s references to racial equality, citing the refusal by his administration to allow thousands of asylum-seekers to cross the border. Instead, they must remain in Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols program.
“He has never wanted to be a president for all Americans, and he proved it again — as he always does — tonight,” said Melissa Cigarroa, president of the board of directors of the Rio Grande International Study Center in Laredo, Texas.
“The president has used the State of the Union to issue distortions that promote fear of people that come from below our southern border, painting a racist, xenophobic picture of the people in need outside the walls and militarized boundaries of white America. His nearsighted, punitive words bespeak profound disrespect for our beleaguered neighbors. His brutal rhetoric bears not a trace of the generosity raised by our better angels,” said Joshua Rubin, of the Bronx, New York, who since Jan. 12 has been leading a daily group of protesters at the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville, Texas, to urge the federal government to allow the migrants to cross the bridge.
Nearly 3,000 asylum-seekers are living on the other side of the bridge in a tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, a city the State Department has warned Americans not to travel to because of its dangers and the drug cartels that control it.
“What I found most tragic is that he didn’t talk about the racial hatred and extremism that’s on the rise in our country — El Paso, or other areas that have experienced tragic deaths and deep pain from racially motivated shootings,” said Tricia Cortez, executive director of the Rio Grande International Study Center, who has organized two protest marches in the past few weeks against a border wall that is planned to encapsulate the entire city of Laredo.
U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat from Texas who represents El Paso, specifically addressed that in her response to Trump’s State of the Union, which she made in Spanish.
The mayor of McAllen, Texas, Jim Darling, who earlier in the day himself gave a State of the City speech, said he appreciated the references to improving education and America’s finances, which are the starting blocks of any great nation, he said.
“I thought the speech was right on many respects that reflect what we believe in the Valley, with some exceptions,” Darling said. “I thought the progress regarding low income was significant because after 60 years of fighting poverty it’s good to see some progress but there is still much work to do. The road out of poverty is our equal opportunity for all and the tools to take advantage of that opportunity. We need to work on the tools which are not always available to all for a lot of different reasons not necessarily the government’s responsibility but individuals’ or societal problems.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.
Visit the BorderReport.com homepage for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.