Protesters amass in both US and Mexico as Donald Trump lands in California to examine his border wall prototypes
US President Donald Trump arrived in San Diego County, southern California, on Tuesday to survey the border wall prototypes he had commissioned, as around 100 protesters gathered on the US side of the border and security was ramped up on the Mexican side.
Around 100 protesters chanted, “No ban! No wall!” near the San Ysidro border crossing, where tens of thousands of people enter the US daily from Tijuana, Mexico - many on their way to work or school in San Diego. Drivers honked as a show of support.
Meanwhile, Trump himself - making his first visit as president to California, a state he has lambasted for not complying with his immigration laws - touched down to view the eight 30-foot-tall prototypes.
Trump has long said he wanted to visit the models himself so he can pick a winner, although the Department of Homeland Security says elements of each design are expected to be used.
After the inspection, Trump will address Marines in San Diego before flying to Los Angeles for a high-dollar fundraiser.
At the protest, passersby such as José Gonzalez, 21, stopped to snap a photo of people holding signs, including one that read: “Wall off Putin!”
“I don’t think it’s really fair how he has the choice to separate us,” said González, a dual citizen who lives in Tijuana and crosses daily to work at a San Diego ramen restaurant.
Army veteran Mark Prieto, 48, shook his head as he walked by. “People are so narrow-minded,” said the firefighter, who voted for Trump. “Finally we have someone who is putting America first.”
Dozens of pro- and anti-wall demonstrators gathered peacefully on opposite sides of a street leading to the prototypes, with a heavy police presence separating them.
Several groups also planned peaceful protests on the Mexican side, but a Federal Police official said they are not going to be allowed near the prototype area.
Large trucks filled gaps between the prototypes on Monday, offering a layer of protection. A man, woman and two children were seen climbing the border fence at the site and were immediately detained.
San Diego’s Republican mayor criticised Trump’s short visit, saying the president won’t get a full picture of the city. Kevin Faulconer said that if Trump stayed more than a few hours, he would see that a strong economy and free trade aren’t a contradiction but a way of life.
The mayor, a business-friendly Republican and ardent supporter of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), said a popular cross-border airport terminal connecting San Diego and Tijuana shows that “building bridges has worked wonders.”
The terminal is a few miles from the border-wall prototypes.
Trump had campaigned against Nafta as a job killer that he said encouraged American companies to move factories to Mexico to exploit cheap labour. Renegotiations over the deal began last summer.
Faulconer, writing in The San Diego Union-Tribune, also said San Diego police work to protect everyone regardless of immigration status, an apparent dig at Trump’s push to target illegal immigration.
The issue has led to heightened tensions between California and the Trump administration. The Justice Department recently sued over state laws that limit cooperation with immigration authorities, which state officials have harshly criticized.
San Diego’s City Council last year passed a resolution opposing Trump’s proposed wall. The city is the largest on the US-Mexico border to oppose his plans.
Jeff Schwilk, founder of San Diegans for Secure Borders and organiser of a pro-Trump rally, the city resolution does not reflect the views of many residents, who feel the border is not secure.
“We absolutely want President Trump to feel welcome and to come inspect the prototypes so we can get the wall built,” he said.
US and Mexican authorities appeared to be collaborating closely on security measures before the president’s visit. Members of the US Secret Service have been in Tijuana in recent days to help plan Tuesday’s security operation, according to US and Mexican sources.
On Monday, members of US and Mexican agencies gathered at the Federal Police command centre near Tijuana’s A.L. Rodriguez International Airport to make final arrangements.
Authorities in Tijuana said they were preparing to block off all access about two kilometres (one-and-a-quarter miles) from the existing fence, and would close down the dirt road that runs along the fence.
In a briefing Monday, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump will address all five branches of the military.
“While California may not have – he may not have won that state – there is certainly a lot of support for this president, not just there but across the country,” Sanders said. “And he looks forward to being there and presenting a lot of the specific policies.”
Trump has not yet received funding for the envisioned wall. His administration has requested US$18 billion that would build about 480 kilometres (300 miles) of new barrier where none exist and would replace older sections of fencing.
On Monday, Sanders stressed that the wall is something Trump “is not going to back away from” and will continue to push for.
In Tijuana on Monday afternoon, Trump’s impending visit brought much activity to the southern side of the corrugated border fence, lined with a dirt road that is littered with trash and the rusting bodies of abandoned cars.
East of the Otay Mesa Port of Entry, residents of the adjacent Rancho Escondido neighbourhood continued with their daily routines, even as foreign and Mexican news teams arrived to solicit interviews, conduct stand-ups by the fence, and peek above it.
“It’s not good,” said Mauricio Villegas, 37, glancing toward the fence and prototype walls as he passed through on his way to a job at a veterinary office.
“People are going to continue to pursue a better life. If they don’t find it in their own country, they’re going to leave to find work elsewhere.”