Trump Lands in El Centro as Crowds Wait at Border

NBC 7 has live team coverage of the presidential visit on air, in app and at the top of this page.

President Donald Trump is expected to address immigration Friday as he visits the U.S.-Mexico border in Calexico, California to tour a section of recently replaced border fence.

The president flew into Naval Air Facility El Centro aboard Air Force One and was greeted to cheers from border patrol agents, military troops and their families before boarding a motorcade.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was the first to greet the president and traveled with him south to Calexico, where he will tour a 2.25-mile section of upgraded border fence

With the renovation, the section became the tallest border barrier along the southern United States, standing at 30 feet tall, according to El Centro Sector Border Patrol Chief Gloria Chavez.

The White House says it’s the first section of his proposed border wall to be built, though the repairs were made with 2018 appropriations as part of a long-planned replacement project, and was in construction from Feb. to Oct. 2018. 

Marine One landed at Joint Base Andrews just before 7:30 a.m. and the president quickly walked through the rain under a black umbrella, up the stairs to Air Force One and boarded the plane. In a matter of minutes, the president was in the air and en route to El Centro. 

Meanwhile, both protesters and supporters gathered at the Gran Plaza Outlets next to the Calexico Port of Entry in anticipation of Trump’s arrival. Nearby, the barbed wire fence separating the two countries was lined with Department of Homeland Security vehicles.

Protesters floated next to the port a 20-foot tall balloon of a cartoonish Trump wearing a diaper, hopeful that the president’s motorcade would pass the giant inflatable while en route to the border. 

“We hope our words – our real worries – are heard. And we can reach a solution,” said protester and Calexico resident Maria Surtado.  

Trump supporter and El Centro resident Omar Vega positioned himself next to the baby Trump balloon and alongside protesters to represent the other side, he told NBC 7. Vega is hopeful that the president can make change along the border. 

“Hopefully he actually does something productive today, and hopefully helps the economy, in this city, right now,” Vega said. “With building the wall, hopefully the crime rate goes down, especially in this city, because it’s very bad right now.” 

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that during President Trump’s visit to the border city, he will be briefed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials on “exactly what is taking place at the border.”

“He’s going to get a briefing when he first arrives there from a number of law enforcement officials, the CBP folks the people that are on the front lines there on the ground,” she told Fox News. 

The president has threatened to close the southern border if demands to curb illegal immigration and drug trafficking are not met. On Thursday, the President walked back the immediate threat to close the border and instead said the closure could come next year if the Mexican government or Congress does not make significant progress on both issues. Trump also said he would slap tariffs on Mexican automotive imports at that time. 

The possibility of a border shutdown was first made last Friday due to a surge of Central Americans migrants who are seeking asylum in the U.S. Trump administration officials have said the influx is straining the immigration system to the breaking point.

While Vega is in favor of Trump’s border wall plan, he admits shutting down the border wouldn’t be good for El Centro because the city’s economy relies on people crossing over the border to spend money, he explained.  

“This is certainly not the president’s first choice but Democrats at this point, they’re unwillingness to do anything has left the president with very little options. Thankfully Mexico has stepped up over the last few days,” Sanders said. 

When asked what Mexico has done, the press secretary said they’ve added additional checkpoints within the country to stop migrants before they reach the U.S. border. Second, Mexico increased to 300 the number of asylum-seeking individuals allowed to be sent back to Mexico as part of a new U.S. policy.

Mexico’s cooperation with U.S. officials last December marked a historic one as the country has traditionally refused to accept into their country the return of any migrants who are not Mexican.

Elected leaders from border communities stretching from San Diego to cities across Texas warned that havoc would ensue on both sides of the international boundary if the ports were closed. They were joined by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which said such a step would inflict “severe economic harm.”

The San Diego and Imperial County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union released a statement Friday voicing concerns that the president was not meeting with civilians of the border communities. 

The statement read in part, “To our knowledge, the president has no plans to meet with Imperial Valley residents or community leaders to hear their concerns. He has no intent to learn how his policies strain limited local resources and put lives at risk. He is unmoved by the harmful effects his threats to close the border has on businesses, families and civic life in the region.”

Calexico, part of Imperial County, is home to the second busiest commercial port on the California border and processes tens of thousands of vehicles daily. 

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