SAN DIEGO -- President Donald Trump on Tuesday inspected eight towering prototypes for his long-sought wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and accused California of putting "the entire nation at risk" by refusing to take tough action against illegal immigration.
Trump, making his first trip to California as president, said he preferred a fully concrete wall because it was the hardest to climb, but he noted that it needed to be see-through. He said the first thing he noticed on the drive to the border was the patched-up holes in part of the existing fence.
"We have a lousy wall over here now, but at least it stops 90, 95 percent," Trump said. "When we put up the real wall, we're going to stop 99 percent. Maybe more than that."
Trump's visit was greeted with peaceful protests by demonstrators both for and against his planned wall. The trip came the battle escalates between his administration and the liberal state, which has refused to help federal agents detain some illegal aliens.
The president renewed his criticism of Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, saying Tuesday that he was presiding over sky-high tax rates and that the state's so-called sanctuary policies "put the entire nation at risk."
"They're the best friend of the criminal," Trump said. "That's what exactly is happening. The criminals take refuge in these sanctuary cities and it's very dangerous for our police and enforcement folks."
The Justice Department last week sued to block a trio of California laws designed to protect people living in the U.S. illegally. Brown accused U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions of "going to war" with California to appease Trump.
After leaving the border, Trump basked in the cheers of U.S. Marines in Miramar, pointing to his work to build up the nation's military. He also suggested there may someday be a "space force" fighting alongside the nation's military branches.
Referring to his 2016 election victory over Hillary Clinton -- who received 4 million more votes than Trump in California -- the president vowed that "very soon we're going to Mars" and the nation would not be seeking to explore the red planet had his opponent won.
Trump later attended a high-dollar fundraiser near Los Angeles, where he was to stay overnight. Guests paid up to $250,000 to attend the event at the Beverly Hills home of Ed Glazer, co-chairman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The money raised will go to a joint fundraising committee that benefits Trump's 2020 re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee.
A few hundred protesters for and against Trump faced off at a Beverly Hills park. A group of pro-immigration demonstrators chanted, "Say it now, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here."
Demonstrations were also held at the San Ysidro port of entry in San Diego, the nation's busiest border crossing, where protesters chanted, "No ban! No wall!" as honking cars and buses cheered them on. Protests were also held on the Mexican side, in Tijuana.
At San Ysidro, Jose Gonzalez, 21, stopped to snap a photo of the protesters holding signs, including one that read: "Wall off Putin!" in reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose administration interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump win, U.S. intelligence agencies have reported.
"I don't think it's really fair how he has the choice to separate us," said Gonzalez, a dual citizen who lives in Tijuana and crosses the border daily to work at a San Diego ramen restaurant.
Army veteran Mark Prieto, 48, shook his head as he walked by the protest.
"People are so narrow-minded," the Riverside firefighter said as the crowd chanted. "Finally we have someone who is putting America first."
His wife, Corina Prieto, a nurse who has extended family in Mexico, agreed. Both voted for Trump.
"I think he is doing a lot of good, like protecting our Border Patrol," she said.
Trump was to be briefed on lessons learned from the construction of the prototypes built in San Diego last fall. He was also to meet with border agents and officers to ask what they need, Homeland Security spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said.
San Diego's Republican mayor, writing in The San Diego Union-Tribune, criticized Trump's planned short visit, saying the president won't get a full picture of the city. Kevin Faulconer said a popular cross-border airport terminal connecting San Diego and Tijuana shows that "building bridges has worked wonders."
On Monday, Brown sent Trump a backhanded invitation suggesting a change of itinerary to add a visit to a construction site for what he said is the nation's first true high-speed rail line. "In California we are focusing on bridges, not walls," Brown wrote.
Brown's government and environmental advocacy groups have sued to block construction of the border wall, claiming that the administration acted illegally when it waived certain environmental rules.
U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whom Trump attacked during his 2016 campaign, said in an initial ruling last month that the administration had legal authority to proceed with the project.
The Indiana-born Curiel presided over a class-action lawsuit concerning students who said they had been defrauded by Trump University. Trump said Curiel couldn't be impartial because he was a "Mexican."
Trump tweeted about California's immigration policies as he flew to the state aboard Air Force One.
"California's sanctuary policies are illegal and unconstitutional and put the safety and security of our entire nation at risk. Thousands of dangerous & violent criminal aliens are released as a result of sanctuary policies, set free to prey on innocent Americans. THIS MUST STOP!" he wrote.
SPENDING STICKING POINT
The wall is one of the last major sticking points in negotiations over funding the federal government for the remainder of the year once a stopgap spending bill expires March 23. Lawmakers haven't decided what to do about it.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump is determined to press for the project.
"The president campaigned on this, he talked about it extensively," Sanders said in a Monday briefing. "This is something that he is not going to back away from and something that he's going to continue to push for."
Trump has maintained that he expects Mexico to ultimately pay for the wall, perhaps as part of a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has repeatedly rejected the idea. The issue has helped sour relations between the two leaders.
He also raised the possibility in a tweet Tuesday of justifying the cost of the wall based on savings in government spending that immigration opponents anticipate from the tighter border. The Twitter message cited estimates by the rightist Center for Immigration Studies, which favors lower levels of immigration.
"According to the Center for Immigration Studies, the $18 billion wall will pay for itself by curbing the importation of crime, drugs and illegal immigrants who tend to go on the federal dole," Trump tweeted.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded in a 2016 report that immigration in recent decades has raised overall U.S. economic growth.
First-generation immigrants are more costly to governments, mainly at the state and local levels, than are native-born Americans, in large part because of the cost of educating their children, the report found. However, as adults, those second-generation immigrants are among the strongest economic contributors to the country and pay proportionately more in taxes than the rest of the native-born population.
Tuesday's visit wasn't Trump's first to the border. He traveled to Laredo -- one of Texas' safest cities -- weeks after declaring his candidacy in June 2015.
Trump told reporters then that he was putting himself "in great danger" by going to the border. But, he said, "I have to do it. I love this country."
Information for this article was contributed by Kathleen Ronayne, John Antczak, Elliot Spagat, Greg Bull, Darlene Superville, Ken Thomas, Nancy Benac and Julie Watson of The Associated Press and by Jennifer Epstein and Mark Niquette of Bloomberg News.
A Section on 03/14/2018
Print Headline: 'Real wall' stops 99% of illegals, Trump predicts