Protests to await Trump's visit to California border

2018-03-13 12:13
A boy looks through the first section of a newly-constructed structure along the border separating Mexicali, Mexico, and Calexico, California. (Gregory Bull, AP)

A boy looks through the first section of a newly-constructed structure along the border separating Mexicali, Mexico, and Calexico, California. (Gregory Bull, AP)

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San Diego – Numerous rallies both for-and-against Donald Trump's "big beautiful border wall" are expected to mark his first visit to California as president, where he will examine prototypes for future towering barriers to separate the United States and Mexico.

Protests are also being planned across the border in Tijuana, Mexico on Tuesday when Trump will examine eight, 9m tall prototypes built along the international border to fulfill his signature campaign promise.

Organisers on both sides were urging people to remain peaceful after recent scuffles at rallies in Southern California, including brawls at a December 9 rally near where the prototypes stand.

San Diego is the largest city on the US-Mexico border to formally oppose his plans, passing a resolution in 2017.

The visit comes amid growing tensions between the administration and state over immigration enforcement.

A top federal immigration official unleashed strong criticism of some of the state's elected leaders ahead of the visit. Thomas Homan, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's acting director, singled out Gov. Jerry Brown, US Sen. Dianne Feinstein and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Monday for recent criticism of a spate of immigration arrests in the state and a federal lawsuit challenging state laws that limit cooperation on immigration.

About 250 people marched in downtown San Diego in protest of the wall on Monday evening. Some held signs, including one that read: "No hate in the Golden State."

Detrimental to environment and tourism

Immigrant activists, church leaders and elected officials held a press conference at the city's historic Chicano Park to call for demonstrations to show border communities do not support a wall. Standing in front of murals of Mexican revolutionaries and other Latin American icons, they chanted "We reject your hate! We don't need your racist wall!"

"It's really important that as a region, as a city that has firsthand understanding of what the border wall means for our communities that we stand against (this) and we send a strong message to DC to say this is something that we don't welcome," City Councilwoman Georgette Gomez said on Monday.

Gomez sponsored the resolution opposing the wall, calling it detrimental to the city's environment and tourism. It also expressed the city's intent to divest from the companies involved in the construction, financing and design of the wall.

Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer – who is not expected to meet with Trump during his visit – did not support the resolution but also did not veto it. The mayor's office said Faulconer has been clear in his opposition to walls along the border but he did not want to blacklist companies involved in the construction of the prototypes.

"When some people look at the US-Mexico border, they see division," Faulconer said in his state of the city address in 2017. "But here in San Diego we view it much differently. Rather than allowing the border to divide us, we're building bridges that connect us."

'Full of liars'

Jeff Schwilk, founder of San Diegans for Secure Borders, whose group participated in the rally in December near the prototypes that ended in clashes with counter-protesters, said the city council's resolution does not reflect the views of many residents, who feel the border is not secure. He said his organisation respects free speech and hopes Tuesday's rally will be safe for participants.

"We absolutely want President Trump to feel welcome and to come inspect the prototypes so we can get the wall built," he said.

Trump on Tuesday is expected to be briefed on lessons learned from the construction of the prototypes built in San Diego last fall. He also will meet with border agents and officers to ask what they need, said Jonathan Hoffman, Homeland Security spokesperson.

The president will not be swayed by California Republican lawmakers concerned the wall is a waste of money, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Monday.

"The president campaigned on this, he talked about it extensively and he's the president and this is something that he is not going to back away from," she said. "It's something that he's going to continue to push for."

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday invited Trump to also visit the state's high-speed rail construction projects.

"You see, in California we are focusing on bridges, not walls," Brown, a Democrat, said in a letter sent to Trump.

Trump's visit comes just days after his Justice Department sued to block California laws designed to protect people living in the US illegally and US Attorney General Jeff Sessions followed up with a speech in Sacramento that was immediately denounced by Brown, who said the Trump administration was "full of liars".

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