PHARR — Former President Donald Trump returned to Texas on Wednesday for the first time since leaving office in January for a look at an unfinished section of the border wall near the Rio Grande and used the opportunity to fire broadsides at his successor and congressional Democrats.
“Now we have an open, more dangerous border,” Trump said to a crowd that included a long list of Republican elected officials from Texas and elsewhere. “More dangerous than it has ever been in the history of our country.
“I mean the real question is do they really want open borders or are they incompetent? That's the only two.”
The former president was invited by Gov. Greg Abbott to first listen to the concerns of Texas law enforcement officials and then to speak with the rusted bollard border fencing and oversized American and Texas flags waving about him.
In off-the-cuff remarks, Trump touched on several themes, including several long since debunked, that proved to be among the touchstones of his single term in the White House. He repeated his assertion that the Russia investigation was sparked by a hoax and that there's reason to doubt the legitimacy of last year's presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden.
“Biden is destroying our country, and it all started with a fake election,” Trump said.
Abbott, a Republican who will seek a third term next year, has vowed to use state resources to continue work and the wall that has been halted by Biden. The governor has been harshly critical of the Democratic administration's 180-degree reversal of Trump's policies for the southern border. And at the events in South Texas, the governor continued to drive that theme as he lavished praise upon the former president.
“You see an unfinished border,” Abbott said as he gestured to the wall behind him. “This is Biden’s fault because President Biden is not continuing what President Trump began.
“Apprehensions have shot up, leading to an increase in criminals entering the country,” he added. “It is time we seal this border and close it down.”
Texas Democrats, both in Congress and in the Legislature, denounced the border visit in damning terms. They accused Trump and the governor of playing politics with the issue as several more pressing issues go unnoticed.
“The state of Texas has gone through so much this past year,” said Democratic Congressman Filemon Vela of Brownsville. “The pandemic, the massive power outages that resulted in so many lives lost, and now an unemployment rate that is double what we saw before the virus.
“Instead of prioritizing Texans and making sure we grow our economy and get people back to work, Governor Abbott is creating a distracting media circus with a failed former president.”
As Trump made his way to the border wall in Pharr, a group of Texas Democrats gathered outside of the Capitol in Austin to criticize Abbott and other state leaders for what they described as a publicity stunt that distracts from real issues lawmakers should be addressing.
“This is a congressional responsibility, not a state responsibility,” said state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin. “Congress has been absent for a generation now or more, since I was a little girl in El Paso, Texas — not providing real answers and a real pathway to citizenship.”
Illegal border crossings lulled during the COVID-19 pandemic that raged during nearly all of 2020. But federal immigration authorities have apprehended as many as 100,000 migrants at the southern border each month since February, according to reports.
Trump arrived back in South Texas for the first time since shortly before leaving office in January on an overcast day with sometimes heavy rains. The trip with Abbott has stirred intense media interest, not only in Texas but internationally.
Trump said under the Biden administration's border policies, crime and smuggling have increased.
“We're not only talking about people, millions of people are coming in,” Trump said. “But we're talking about drugs, we're talking about human trafficking.”
Law enforcement officials who joined the former president agreed.
“Drug cartels of Mexico need to be the No. 1 enemy of law enforcement,” said Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourne, adding that illegal opioid fentanyl is coming across the border in unprecedented amounts and making its way to communities all across the country.
Abbott's office said more than 140 journalists – including the cable news networks, several Spanish-speaking outlets and one from as far away as France – were credentialed for the events planned at the border. A half-dozen motor coaches were chartered to shuttle reporters from the Texas Department of Public Safety regional headquarters in Weslaco to the see the site of the wall tour in the border town of Pharr.
“Come on home, governor,” said state Rep. John Bucy, a Democrat from Austin. “Let’s have a special session and let’s talk about gun safety. Let’s talk about health care, let’s talk about fixing the grid and working on the demand side. And then, if we’re going to waste tax dollars to be here, we can get something done for the people of Texas.”
American-Statesman staff writer Madlin Mekelburg contributed to this report.
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