Updated at 3:45 p.m. with border reaction.
WASHINGTON – Eight days before reluctantly leaving office, President Donald Trump will visit the border in South Texas on Tuesday to tout partial construction of the massive wall he promised to deliver – far more than critics wanted, far less than he wanted, and none it funded by Mexico.
At last count, some 452 miles has been built. About 12 miles of that is along segments of the border without any barrier before. The rest replaces shorter and less sturdy barrier.
The project has cost $15 billion so far, just $4.5 billion of that provided by Congress. Trump diverted the rest from the military budget when lawmakers balked at full funding.
It’s not quite the “big beautiful wall” he promised during the 2016 campaign when he suggested that nearly all of the 1,954-mile frontier would be walled off. By the time he leaves office, it will be about 40% fenced. President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to halt construction, though he won’t dismantle whatever the Trump administration leaves behind.
Trump has not been seen in public since Wednesday morning, when he stoked the passions of a crowd that would soon be rioting at the Capitol.
With growing calls for resignation or impeachment, he’ll be visiting Texas unaccompanied by allies who are usually eager to greet him on landing. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov Dan Patrick will be in Austin on Tuesday for the opening day of the 2021 Legislature.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said Sunday that Trump will visit Alamo, Texas, just east of McAllen and near the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, “to mark the completion of more than 400 miles of border wall — a promise made, promise kept — and his Administration’s efforts to reform our broken immigration system.”
Although incomplete, and more of a tall fence than the wall Trump envisioned – early on, he bowed to advice from agents on the ground that it’s better to see what’s on the other side – it is undoubtedly harder to defeat than what was there before.
The design is meant to slow migrants and smugglers long enough for the Border Patrol to arrive. For the system to work as intended, surveillance and manpower will need to be stepped up, and it’s unclear how much appetite Biden and the Democrat-controlled Congress will have. Even critics of the wall concede that tearing it down or abandoning it would send the wrong signal to smugglers and uninvited migrants.
Democrats and many Republicans considered the wall a boondoggle – a needlessly costly monument to Trump’s desire to signal that the United States is tightening security and a scar on environmentally delicate landscape.
The Mexican public and leaders took the wall as an affront and never budged in their refusal to pay for a project they opposed.
Trump and his supporters viewed the wall both as an effective deterrent to smuggling and illegal border crossing, and a powerful symbol that uninvited migrants are not welcome.
Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Laredo Democrat, fought on the Appropriations Committee to stymie budget maneuvers that sapped billions from the Pentagon to his pet project. The wall was one of many reasons he was pleased that Biden won the election.
“The fact that the president is traveling to the southern border to see his failed attempt of a border wall, shows exactly where his priorities lie,” he tweeted.
Hidalgo County, which includes Alamo, tightened pandemic-related restrictions in the last few days to relieve crowding in hospitals. Hospitalizations have quadrupled in the last two months in the lower Valley.
The project has used 681,000 tons of steel and nearly a billion cubic yards of concrete, according to figures come from the Department of Homeland Security, for levee wall along the Rio Grande accounts and 30-foot steel bollards that are harder to scale or cut through than the older fencing.
Although Biden won’t dismantle Trump’s physical legacy, he will undo sharp curbs on refugee admissions and a host of other immigration policies put in place through executive order.
Robert Peña, director with the Republican Alliance of El Paso, lauded Trump’s trip to Alamo and expects the support for the outgoing president will remain long after his term ends Jan. 20.
“Half the country voted for him,” Peña said, adding that the visit should remind Biden “not to open the flood gates. We need to keep the country safe.”
South Texas is a noteworthy choice for this visit.
The Rio Grande Valley remains the busiest sector for the U.S. Border Patrol.
Trump, who kept Texas in the GOP column, offset Biden’s overwhelming advantage with Latino voters in urban areas by outperforming previous GOP nominees along the border.
Community organizers were mounting an anti-Trump push, including a petition prodding the mayors of Alamo and McAllen and the Hidalgo County sheriff to demand the White House scrap the visit.
He uses our home as a playground for mass incarceration, mass separation of immigrant families, and his ridiculous wall. No Valley leader can be quiet during this, join whichever protest happens and work with us to tear down his wall and dream up the community we all deserve. https://t.co/WQViX4GgjP
— Roberto Alejandro Lopez (@RobertoAleLopez) January 9, 2021
Trump is visiting the Texas border Tuesday.
At a Florida rally in 2019, he asked a crowd what should be done with people crossing the border. Someone shouted “Shoot them!”
Trump laughed and said, “Only in the panhandle can you get away with that.” pic.twitter.com/ufxN7cFobL
— Sawyer Hackett (@SawyerHackett) January 10, 2021
Pro-Trump supporters were organizing Sunday to greet the president at the airport and at the border wall.
“Everyone is excited to have him,” said Mayra Flores, a Hidalgo County GOP organizer behind flag-waving caravans known as “Trump trains.” “You saw the tremendous support he got from South Texas, though it surprised some.”
Trump insisted that work continue during the pandemic and since his defeat. Biden aides and congressional allies have been trying to figure out which contracts can be scrapped and how much that will cost taxpayers in penalties.
Five days before the election, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf visited McAllen to mark completion of 400 miles, predicting it would hit 450 miles by New Year’s Eve.
Advocates for tougher border security cheered Trump’s drive to complete as much as possible, though they say it won’t be enough by the time Biden takes office.
As vice president in the Obama era, Biden was in charge of working with Central America to find ways of reducing the poverty and crime that led to mass migrations north.
His border security plans focus on improved screening at ports of entry, where most illegal drugs enter the United States, along with beefing up investments in surveillance technology and working with Mexico and Central American countries.
The wall was Trump’s signature promise in the 2016 campaign, and his relentless pursuit of it led to confrontations that did not thrill many in his own party. A 35-day government shutdown ended in January 2019 without Trump getting $5.7 billion in wall funding that he had demanded.
Border correspondent Alfredo Corchado and staff writer Dianne Solis in Dallas contributed to this report.