SAN DIEGO — President Donald Trump received decidedly mixed responses from San Diego County and state officials Friday as he visited the U.S.-Mexico border in nearby Calexico one week after threatening to close it.
Trump backpedaled on the threat this week, instead dangling the threat of tariffs on Mexican products if the country doesn't stem the flow of drugs coming across the border within a year. Trump threatened tariffs as high as 25 percent on imported items like cars and auto parts. The border shutdown would have frozen a trade relationship that exchanged $612 billion in goods last year.
Trump also suggested before leaving for Calexico that the country should do away with its asylum process and immigration judges altogether to halt immigration across the southern border. He doubled-down on the that stance once he arrived at the border.
"The asylum laws are broken, they're totally broken," Trump said. "I inherited this stuff and we're going to get it fixed."
Trump argued that some asylum-seekers are gang members and stated that the country's new response to asylum claims is that the system is full and it will no longer hear cases.
Republican Party of San Diego County Chairman Tony Krvaric welcomed Trump to southern California with open arms and full-throated support.
"San Diego Republicans join President Trump in supporting orderly legal immigration and vetting of refugees while employing an all-of-the-above approach to stop violent criminals, deadly drugs, and human trafficking from entering our country," Krvaric said.
The San Diego-based Southern Border Communities Coalition was not as fawning in its comments on Trump's visit, referring to it as "trite political theater." The coalition is composed of 60 organizations in border cities from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, which lies at the southern tip of the state on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.
"Trump seems hell-bent on exploiting the misery of families and children seeking asylum at our doors for his own political gain," said coalition Director Vicki Gaubeca. "This is not who we are as a nation, and does not reflect our values of treating people with dignity, compassion, and fairness."
Trump visited a section of the border barrier that he argues is the first constructed section of his signature wall, but the project was first floated during the Obama administration as far back as 2009 and first received funding during Trump's first year in the White House. When U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen visited the area in October, she had a plaque installed denoting the 2.25-mile section of steel bollard fencing as the "first section of President Trump's border wall."
The federal government has installed or repaired roughly 82 miles of border fencing, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, who spoke at a border security roundtable with Trump during the visit. By the end of 2020, the Army Corps of Engineers plans to have installed, repaired or replaced roughly 450 miles of bordering fencing and barriers, costing an estimated $8 billion.
Trump is visiting the state at a time when he is viewed by many as a toxic brand. He has an approval rating of 29 percent among the state's adult population, according to a survey taken last month by nonpartisan think tank the Public Policy Institute of California.
San Diego County formally filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration Wednesday afternoon, alleging that the federal government continues to harm the county and stoke a public health crisis by releasing asylum-seeking migrants into the U.S. with little-to-no support network.
An International Rescue Committee report released today supported the county's argument after IRC partners and staff went to the border to analyze its current state first-hand. According to the report, an immigrant shelter in San Diego County served more than 11,000 asylum-seekers allegedly fleeing persecution between November 2018 and March.
The Trump administration changed its asylum process policy earlier this year, requiring that asylum-seekers wait in Mexico instead of allowing them to enter the U.S. while they wait to plead their case in front of an immigration judge. Opponents, such as the IRC and Gov. Gavin Newsom, have said the policy change violates due process rights. Newsom reiterated that stance today after Trump suggested eliminating the asylum process.
"Since our founding, this country has been a place of refuge -- a safe haven for people fleeing tyranny, oppression and violence," Newsom said. "His words show a total disregard of the Constitution, our justice system, and what it means to be an American."