ALAMO, Texas -- President Donald Trump on Tuesday made his first appearance in public since the Capitol siege to trumpet his campaign against illegal immigration.
In Alamo, Texas, a city in the Rio Grande Valley near the U.S.-Mexican border, Trump delivered remarks highlighting his administration's efforts to curb illegal immigration and the progress made on his signature 2016 campaign promise: building a "big, beautiful wall" across the length of the southern border -- a structure made of concrete and reinforced steel.
His administration has overseen the construction of roughly 450 miles of border wall construction -- likely reaching 475 miles by Inauguration Day. The vast majority of that wall replaces smaller barriers that had already existed, though the new wall is considerably more difficult to bypass.
Over the past four years, Trump and his administration have taken extreme action to try to curb immigration. Their efforts were aided in his final year by the coronavirus pandemic, which ground international travel to a halt. But the number of people stopped trying to cross the southern border illegally has been creeping back up in recent months. Figures from December show nearly 74,000 encounters at the southwest border, up 3% from November and up 81% from a year earlier.
A few dozen Trump supporters rallied hours before his visit to the Rio Grande Valley near the Harlingen, Texas, airport, where he was scheduled to land. They planned to stage a caravan of vehicles flying flags that support the president.
Trump warned that a reversal of his policies by President-elect Joe Biden would bring about a "tidal wave of illegal immigration." He added, "To terminate those policies is knowingly to put America in really serious danger."
Biden has said he'd halt construction of the border wall and take executive action where possible to reverse some of Trump's restrictions on legal immigration and asylum seekers. But Biden and his aides have acknowledged the possibility of a new crisis at the border if they act too quickly, and Biden has said it could take six months for his administration to secure funding and put in place the necessary infrastructure to loosen Trump-era restrictions.
Beyond touting the wall, Trump listed his changes on the border aimed at discouraging asylum. He cited his "Remain in Mexico" policy, under which more than 65,000 asylum-seekers have been forced to wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court since January 2019, and agreements struck with Central American countries for them to offer asylum to people seeking protection in the United States.
He credited his wall for a drop in illegal border crossings from a 13-year high in 2019, but the Government Accountability Office has found the administration lacks measures to correlate drops in illegal crossings to wall construction.
Trump said he inherited "open borders" from his predecessor, Barack Obama. He leaves office with about the same number of Border Patrol agents as when he began, despite a pledge to add 5,000, and the monthly numbers of migrants stopped at the border exceed totals during much of Obama's tenure.
Information for this article was contributed by Nomaan Merchant, Ben Fox, Alexandra Jaffe, Alan Suderman and Elliot Spagat of The Associated Press.