San Diego: Donald Trump — making his first trip to California as president — warned Tuesday there would be “bedlam” without the controversial wall he wants to build on the border with Mexico, as he inspected several prototype barriers.
The trip to the “Golden State” — the most populous in the country and a Democratic stronghold — was largely upstaged by his own announcement that he had sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
And on the other side of the border, a small group of anti-Trump protesters vented their frustration, and announced plans to boycott US businesses over the frontier.
“For the people who say ‘no wall’ — if you didn’t have walls over here, you wouldn’t even have a country,” Trump said near the border in San Diego.
Trump repeated his insistence that law enforcement personnel should be able to see through the structure so that they could monitor criminal cartels that might be “two foot away” on the Mexican side.
“Without a wall there would be bedlam, I imagine,” he added.
Trump inspected eight nine-metre full-scale models made of concrete and steel, erected side-by-side at Otay Mesa, an area in southern San Diego along the border with Tijuana, Mexico.
Each prototype cost more than $300,000 (Dh1.1 million) and, according to some estimates, the complete wall could carry a $20 billion price tag.
Congress has yet to approve the funding amid scepticism and Democratic opposition, but an administration official said the wall would save far more money than it cost.
California has been at the forefront of resistance to the Republican leader’s anti-immigration agenda and at odds with his stance on a number of other issues, from gun control to marijuana and the environment.
Trump skewered California’s Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, saying he’d done “a terrible job” of running a state where the taxes were “way out of whack” and criminals were allowed to roam free in sanctuary cities.
He said he had seen estimates that the “intolerably high” illegal immigration costs came to $100 billion a year in terms of drugs, crime, education and social services.
‘Nothing but hate’
The eight hulking prototypes can be seen from across the border in Tijuana, where residents are not overly impressed with the real estate tycoon, who launched his presidential campaign calling Mexicans “criminals” and “rapists.”
Ahead of the visit, a few dozen people gathered for a pro-Trump rally on the US side of the border, near the prototypes, but dispersed after a short while. A similar number of the president’s detractors came to the San Ysidro border post.
“This is an environmental catastrophe, on top of a misallocation of government resources that could be used for health care or social services,” Cody Petterson, president of the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action, said of the wall.
A woman in glasses, hair scraped into a bun, described herself as a “proud Latina” born and raised in San Diego.
“My parents were deported when I was 15. Did I cry? Yes. How many more tears do we need? Do we need another trail of tears?” she said.
“This president speaks nothing but hate.”
Demonstrators draped themselves in US flags and waved placards emblazoned with slogans such as “Humpty Trumpty will fall off his wall,” “Resist unstable idiot,” and “No hate in the Golden State.”
‘You can get over it’
On the Mexican side, around 50 anti-Trump demonstrators were waiting — with a yellow-haired pinata in Trump’s likeness.
“Here he is, we’re going to burn him,” said activist Sergio Tamai Quintero, founder of the migrant rights group Angels Without Borders.
Mexican federal police securing the area persuaded the activists not to burn the effigy and talked them out of a plan to climb the existing border fence — a corrugated metal barrier covered in graffiti.
Pointing to one of the prototypes towering behind the fence, Eladio Sanchez, 30, admitted that it might slow him down, but noted: “You can get over it anyway.”
The border with Mexico stretches nearly 3,200 kilometres and about a third of it already has some type of barrier or wall.
Trump’s insistence that Mexico pay for the wall has soured relations and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto recently cancelled plans to visit Washington amid continuing disagreement.
Trump is expected to wrap up his visit with an evening of fundraising in Beverly Hills for his 2020 re-election campaign.