MCALLEN, RGV – Thousands of Rio Grande Valley residents vociferously made their opinions known about President Donald Trump and his proposed border wall, in one of the largest displays of civic protest seen in the region for many years. 

On the east side of South 10th Street in McAllen, opposite McAllen International Airport, residents chanted support for the president. On the west side an equal number, if not more, made clear their opposition. 

The chanting went on for hours Thursday morning as the residents waited for President Trump to arrive at the airport. 

“I am supporting Trump because I believe that closed borders will make America safer,” said Cadence Bond, president of Hidalgo County Teenage Republicans. “There are a lot of criminals and drugs that we don’t want to see in our country. We should secure our border and keep America safe. That is why I support Trump.”

Fidencio Barrera, the son of a war veteran was carrying in his hands a letter signed by President Donald Trump that his family received in honor of the memory of his father Joaquin Javier Barrera, who died on August 24, 2017.

“He (Trump) said he supported the veterans because they fought for their country. They did not fight for another country. They fought for ours. When a soldier swears to be a soldier he swears by his country and by his interests, it does not matter if they are economic or political,” Barrera said.

Efren Olivares, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said it was clear the president does not care about the border region and that he was present just to whip up support among his base of supporters.

“Definitely, he (the president) is campaigning for 2020. Remember his campaign promise? That he was going to build a wall and Mexico would pay for it. That promise will never be met,” Olivares said.

Many members of ARISE, a colonia community group, were present. All were against Trump.

“We are a border, not a war zone,” said said Ramona Casas, a community organizer with the group. “We do not want an immigrant’s need to seek protection and security to be militarized more than what we already have. We want our funds to be used for better education and a better system of health and for infrastructure. We have 1,300 colonies without public lighting at night and we want our funds to be invested in that.”

Los Fresnos resident Maria Cisneros Boss.

Los Fresnos resident Maria Cisneros Boss is a precinct chair for Cameron County Republican Party. She said: “I am proud of what my party does. want controlled immigration. I am a a Latina and speak Spanish fluently. I respect my fellow Latinos but I am for controlled immigration and so is our president.”

Asked why a border wall is good, Cisneros Boss said: “It slows the illegal flows down. The drug problem is horrendous in our country. It has  increased with the opioid crisis. I don’t think he (Trump) will get the funds through Congress so I think he will find another route. He always finds a viable solution.”

Cisneros Boss added: “The local news media tends to be liberal. We should love each other and be inclusive but yet follow the laws our country dictates.”

La Unión del Pueblo Entero’s Tania Chavez

Tania Chavez is a leader with La Union Del Pueblo Entero, a community group that helps colonia and low-income families.

“Today is a day we say no to hate and no to a border wall. The money Trump is proposing for a wall could be used for healthcare or education or college tuition or infrastructure for our colonias,” Chavez said.

“The Rio Grande Valley is very unique and going back and forth across the river is just who we are. We need to send a message to the president that we welcome our refugees and that we are a place of love. Not only do we love the people on the inside but we love the people on the outside.”

Alamo resident Mikey Escobedo

Mikey Escobedo is a former Marine from Alamo. He said: “We are for border security but we are not for a border wall. President Trump promised Mexico would pay for it. Or did he lie? And, he is now putting the blame on the government shutdown on others when he said ‘I would be proud to shutdown the government.’ In the Marines, we were taught to have a higher standard, to be honest, to have integrity. It says a lot that all Trump’s five star generals are leaving him.”

Steve Lopez of McAllen is a member of Hispanics Veterans for Trump. He said: “This debate is good for America. If you take the politics out of it, security has been an issue since (President) Reagan. We should not be playing political football with border security.”

Lopez, who fought in Desert Shield and served in the Marines for seven years, said he knows many local business that are forced to hire undocumented immigrants because the competition does. “It depresses wages,” he said.

Harlingen resident Ron Lozano is a former Republican Party candidate for Texas House District 43. Lozano said the process by which President Trump’s wife Melania became a U.S. citizen should be scrutinized.

“There is tremendous doubt as to when Melania initially came into the country. She came to McAllen and tried to be very sympathetic but her whole garb wrecked the whole concept. You wonder where her sympathies lie. But, we do not want her parents to leave. You cannot automatically discard family values. We should not blindly follow his (Trump’s) every whim because you do not know what his next whim is going to be,” Lozano said.

Lozano was also critical of Trump’s decision to send troops to the border region at the end of last year. 

“We did not need them here. They did not accomplish anything of any value. We do not see any danger from the caravan and its impoverished people. Yes, we all dislike the cartel, so let us focus on the people that are really in power. That is where the military can show their wherewithal. Not against people that take three months to get here,” Lozano said.

Roundtable Discussion

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling are pictured at Anzalduas International Bridge.

After Trump held a briefing at a Border Patrol station in McAllen and a news conference at Anzalduas Park, a roundtable discussion was hosted by Texas’ two U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. The event was held at Anzalduas International Bridge. 

Before the meeting started, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz told the Rio Grande Guardian that he believed border mayors could be intermediaries to help end the government shutdown.

“I would like that they give the opportunity to us as mayors and (judges) of the border to be mediators because I see that Republicans are very closed and Democrats are too. But, we who know the situation here. We can tell them they are not going to get anything done if there is no mutual agreement between the parties,” Saenz said.

Saenz added: “There is no crisis on the border. I’m sorry for the families that lost (loved ones due to violence by an undocumented immigrant). Families who have died related to violence are going through a crisis. But, to raise it and say there is a national crisis, it is very difficult for me to say that.”

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling was in charge to give the welcoming of President Trump when he arrived at McAllen International Airport.

Darling was asked by a reporter what words were exchanged between he and Trump on the runway tarmac. Darling said: “I got a shake his hand and I introduced myself and said: ‘Mr. President is an honor to have you here.’ And then he said: ‘How are you doing,’ and he then asked “Are you a Republican?’”

Mayor Darling had the opportunity to meet both the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and President Trump in less than a week.

Darling was asked by a reporter for his impressions having met them both.

“Different kind of presidents from their predecessors right? President Trump is watching as a outsider and we saw him today in golf casual dress, etc., and he says what is on his mind all the time. President López Obrador is also not the kind of Mexican president that you normally see. He is down earth, he is for the people and he backs up what he says with actions. So, I think it was different kind of personalities but very similar as presidents. It was very rewarding to see them both.”

Editor’s Note: Rio Grande Guardian reporter Steve Taylor contributed to this story from McAllen, Texas.