President Donald Trump took a firsthand look today at the eight massive border wall prototypes that he had commissioned in San Diego for the “big, beautiful wall” he wants to build along the Southwest border, favoring a mixture of see-through capability topped with rounded concrete to make it impassable by climbers.
“That wall, they can get over very easily,” Trump told a pool of reporters as he pointed to the existing fencing on Otay Mesa, patched in areas where crossers have made holes. “These walls,” he said, indicating the prototypes behind him, “they can’t.”
He repeatedly called the existing fencing “inferior” and warned against the dangers of drugs that were “pouring through in California.”
“If you don’t have a wall system, we’re not going to have a country,” Trump said. “There’s a lot of problems in Mexico, they have the cartels. We’re fighting the cartels, we’re fighting them hard.”
Trump initially stood in the shadow of one of the prototypes and spoke with a small gaggle that included DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and San Diego’s Chief Border Patrol Agent Rodney Scott. Another official frequently gestured to photos in a white binder.
Then he walked around the 30-foot tall prototypes under the watchful eye of several Border Patrol and Secret Service agents.
Even though Trump said he prefers the completely concrete versions of the wall, he said some see-through element is necessary. “You could be two feet from a criminal cartel and not even know they’re there,” he said.
He added later: “When we build we want to build the right thing.”
Trump used today’s visit to call on Congress to fund the wall “and prohibit grants to sanctuary jurisdictions that threaten the security of our country and the people of our country.” His administration has requested $18 billion that would build about 300 miles of new barrier where none exist and would replace older sections of fencing.
As he departed the border site, law enforcement officers, some in riot gear, lined his motorcade route, along with people hoping to catch a glimpse of the president. Many cheered as the black cars drove past.
The wall tour lasted about 50 minutes, from his 12:20 p.m. arrival to his 1:10 p.m. departure back to Brown Field Municipal Airport, where he boarded Marine One and choppered back to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. At the base, Trump delivered remarks to military personnel representing all five branches.
To waves of applause, Trump lauded the power of the military and praised its men and women for being “great American patriots.”
In his 2 p.m. speech, which covered several topics, he promised new military aircraft and pay raises, pledged to re-enter the space race — including a trip to Mars — spoke of success fighting the Islamic State and reiterated his call for border security.
The president departed for Los Angeles about 2:40 p.m. for a Republican fundraiser at a private home. The evening will include a roundtable with Republican National Committee supporters.
The visit — his first to California as president — has energized both supporters and critics.
At the prototype site, less than 100 people representing both sides lined the entrance route on Enrico Fermi Drive, with Trump supporters outnumbering critics. The crowd decided to largely forgo a fenced in dirt lot a few blocks away that the Sheriff’s Department had designated a temporary “free speech zone.” People were prohibited from carrying anything that could be used as a weapon, from slingshots and rocks to guns and knives.
Law enforcement kept supporters and critics on separate sides of the street to avoid clashes, although that did not stop people from both camps hurling insults across the aisle.
“Trump lost the popular vote,” shouted one critic.
“Guy with the Mexican flag, why aren’t you in Mexico,” shouted a Trump supporter. “You know where you are? You’re in the United States of America.”
William Stanhope, of Eastlake, came to protest Trump, period, especially the president’s stance on climate change and foreign relations policies.
“This is beyond the wall, it’s about everything about Donald Trump,” Stanhope said.
Gary Jones is a Trump supporter who brought his 16-year-old daughter Jacqueline Jones.
“I voted for him because he can’t be bought,” Jones said. “He’s cleaning the swamp from people who get into Congress, get out and get rich. He’s already rich.”
Jacqueline said she’s been called a racist for voting for Trump even though she is Latina.
“They get surprised when I say I’m Latina. I have a Muslim friend who supports Trump,” she said. “We’re breaking the stereotypes.”
A group called Borderland Patriots wearing Make America Great Again hats hung a Trump flag on the fence.
“I’m here to support President Trump,” said Becky, who wouldn’t give her last name because she said she’s received threats on social media for being a Trump supporter. “The President of the United States visiting San Diego, regardless of who he is, should be exciting.”
Organizers of Women’s March San Diego had planned to be at the prototype protest site with a large sign urging Trump to “build bridges, not walls” in anticipation that he will see it from his chopper.
Others are rallying elsewhere, including Trump critics who have gathered at the San Ysidro Port of Entry with signs such as “Immigrants they get the job done.”
At noon, elected officials and interfaith leaders are gathering at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in San Ysidro, where they will urge protection of the state’s immigrant communities.
About 300 Trump supporters assembled on an open lot at Bristow Court and Brittania Boulevard in Otay Mesa, near Brown Field, hoping the presidential motorcade would pass by them, but it did not. The San Diegans for Secure Borders crowd — boisterous but smaller than organizers hoped — waved American flags and Trump flags anyway.
The rally included speakers who opposed sanctuary state policies and relatives of people killed by immigrants.
Security at the prototypes was tight. Large trailers were brought in to form a makeshift barrier between the prototypes and the actual border fence.
The eight prototypes represent a cornerstone of Trump’s campaign promise to build a wall across the 2,000-mile southwestern U.S. border. He called for the models in an early executive order, and they were built in September along a dusty section of land next to the actual border fence.
The goal is to test different materials and designs for impenetrability, although there may not be one big winner. The Department of Homeland Security has said future border barrier designs will likely include a combination of ideas presented from various prototypes.
The sections of wall, more imposing than the existing border barrier, have undergone rigorous testing in the meantime at the site as well as an undisclosed location.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer welcomed Trump in a statement this morning, encouraging him to look at San Diego and its relationship with Mexico as a model of free trade and thriving cross-border economy. “He will see firsthand how a major American city benefits from having not just a modern border crossing but also a working relationship with Mexico,” Faulconer said. “San Diego is living proof that a healthy economy, low unemployment rate and strong international ties are not mutually exclusive. Free trade works for San Diego and it works for our country.”
The visit comes amid increasing tensions between the Trump administration and the left-leaning state over differing views on immigration. Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice sued California over a set of so-called “sanctuary state” laws that limits cooperation with federal immigration enforcement.
And California is among a group suing the Department of Homeland Security over the government’s waiver of several environmental laws to speed along border wall projects in San Diego and Calexico — including the prototype construction. The state and environmental groups lost a major round in that battle two weeks ago, prompting a triumphant Trump to tweet that he was considering withholding any border barrier construction in California until walls are built elsewhere.
Laiken Jordahl, borderlands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed the initial lawsuit in the case, called Trump’s visit “a chest-thumping PR stunt and a direct attack on borderland communities and wildlife.”
“His border wall plans are completely unhinged from reality,” Jordahl continued. “He’s never listened to residents or toured the spectacular borderlands, and sadly we don’t expect him to start now. It’s up to Congress to derail Trump’s twisted nativist fantasy and reject funding for this senseless wall.”
In Tijuana, about a dozen protesters, including deported veterans and a few Americans who crossed for the day, hung banners on the southern side of the corrugated border fence and chanted “No muro” or “No wall.” The crowd was kept about 100 yards away from the border fence. Mexican Federal Police secured the area, along with a handful of U.S. government personnel.
Staff writers Greg Moran, Gustavo Solis, Sandra Dibble and Kate Morrissey contributed to this report.