He came, he spoke, and the Rio Grande Valley had little to no voice represented.
In his third visit to the Valley, former President Donald Trump picked up right where he left off since exiting office in spectacularly controversial fashion, going on minutes-long tirades over Russia, China, Hillary and, of course, false claims of a stolen election at an event Wednesday that was meant to highlight Gov. Greg Abbott’s border security plan.
In short, it was like old times.
Such was the atmosphere of Trump’s briefing alongside Abbott at the Texas Department of Public Safety headquarters in Weslaco, where he and the governor spoke critically of the Biden administration’s immigration policy before DPS authorities and sheriffs. Notably absent were Valley law enforcement representatives.
“The people of Texas have been pleading for us to be able to step up and help restore safety and security in their lives, and that is exactly why Texas is stepping up and doing a job that is truly the federal government’s job — a job that you did,” Abbott said as he gestured at Trump, adding, “but a job that the Biden administration is completely failing us on.”
Several Trump administration officials during his first and only term — including the Department of Homeland Security’s former acting secretary, Chad Wolf; former U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan, and Stephen Miller, a senior policy adviser for Trump — were seated prominently.
Of the 28 officials who participated at the Weslaco briefing, only three were locals: Javier Villalobos, McAllen mayor; Benny Martinez, Brooks County sheriff; and Paul Perez, president of the National Border Patrol Council RGV 3307.
Only Sheriff Martinez was allowed to speak at the event that lasted about 35 minutes.
The county sitting along a busy immigration corridor is experiencing an increase in migrants passing through, some who did not make it.
Martinez said they’ve had a 185% increase in apprehensions and a 490% increase in 9-1-1 calls. Recently, during a period of seven days, they had 25 calls from migrants who became lost in the brush.
Brooks County signed a declaration of disaster related to the increase in migrant crossings, but Martinez said it was due to public health concerns linked to large grass fires.
“The fires that we’ve had were being created by the undocumented because they needed to be found. But during the process of them creating the fire, it’d burn up to 5,000-10,000 acres,” Martinez said.
This led to mutual aid requests from over an hour away in the Valley.
Cameron, Starr and Hidalgo county judges challenged Abbott’s May 31 disaster proclamation, citing no supporting evidence, a loss in revenue at county jails, concerns of family separation and a lack of clarity.
Last week, the governor walked back the list of counties under his proclamation declaring a disaster. The amendment no longer includes any of the counties in the Valley.
McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos said he didn’t have enough evidence to know whether the county was making the right decision, but he said he applauded the governor’s decisions.
“As a mayor, I’m nonpartisan. I welcome whether they’re Republican or Democrat,” Villalobos said. “If they’re elected, I think it’s important for them to come to our border to see some of the issues we have.”
Villalobos, the only elected official from the Valley invited to attend, was not asked to speak at the briefing. Though, he said he hoped the event would draw attention to the financial responsibility shouldered by local communities.
He estimated the city of McAllen has spent about $50,000 in logistics-related expenses assisting migrants move within town.
Humanitarian response expenses are eligible for federal reimbursement, but initially Abbott blocked access to them. The federal disaster declaration from May 31 allows counties under the disaster declaration to access federal reimbursements.
After a presentation from DPS Director Steve McCraw and statements from several Texas sheriffs, Trump spoke for about 15 minutes to close out the meeting.
He revisited his time as president, recalling “tough” negotiations with Central American countries, reigniting the argument against the integrity of elections, and elaborating on the efforts behind building the wall.
“I used to go around in speeches and say, two things that will never get old are a wheel and a wall,” Trump said, adding, “The wall worked, really worked.”
After wrapping up his speech, the group traveled to a location in Pharr where the Trump administration erected sections of a border wall.
Two American flags and a Texas flag hung from cranes, suspended above the podium. Local and national reporters stood on risers behind a small gathering of supporters who were in attendance.
Abbott spoke for about six minutes, before Trump took the podium for 22 minutes and reiterated many of the same points he visited during the briefing.
“Within two months everything could have been completed. It would have been painted,” Trump lamented about his planned border wall.
By 1:55 p.m., the entourage departed from Pharr and headed to a town hall meeting hosted by Fox News.
Villalobos, the only elected official at the briefing who wasn’t asked to speak, said, “It does not affect us too, too much, here in McAllen, but it affects the whole country.”
He’s uncertain of the impact the visit will have on ongoing immigration reform discussions, but he feels the solution won’t come from Texas.
“The minds we need to change are the minds in Washington,” he said.