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Border Security Plays Bit Part in Trump Trip to Texas

Texas’ governor beamed about his endorsement from Trump, while the former president vented long-held grievances about the 2020 election and more.

WESLACO, Texas (CN) — As Texas Governor Greg Abbott floats plans to finish building a border wall, former President Donald Trump visited the Lone Star State on Wednesday to, as he put it, “admire the wall and how it works.” But the real show came earlier, at a so-called border security briefing in the South Texas city of Weslaco.

There, at a Texas Department of Public Safety building, the purpose of Trump’s border visit came into focus. State Republican leaders like Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton displayed their pro-Trump bona fides, beaming as Trump noted that he had given Abbott his “highest and best endorsement” and hinted he would be making an endorsement in the 2022 Texas attorney general race “in the very near future.”

Meanwhile, the former president — who has been banned from virtually every social-media platform as a result of his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol — got a platform to speak to journalists who have largely ignored him since he left office. Much of what he said had nothing to do with the border at all.

Instead, Trump discussed the years-old investigation into his campaign’s alleged ties to Russia, his cognitive abilities and his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

“Everyone said, ‘Russia, Russia, Russia,’” Trump said at the border security briefing. “Well, that’s been proven false. Not only false, it was them that were associated with Russia. It was them, the Democrats and Hillary [Clinton].”

Trump’s visit to the region comes after Vice President Kamala Harris stopped in El Paso last week — and as Republicans like Abbott have attempted to play up what the governor calls “the Biden administration's open-border crisis” ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

Migrant crossing numbers are rising along the southern border — the result, experts say, of a variety of factors, including poverty and violence in Central America and a backlog of asylum-seekers caused by Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. But while law enforcement and political leaders on the border say they’ve dealt with nuisance crimes as a result of migrants, many have pushed back on Abbott’s hardline rhetoric. The governor has evoked “carnage” on the border and has said that “people are being threatened on a daily basis with guns.”

At Wednesday’s briefing, Trump alluded to his false claims that the presidency was stolen from him. He warned that the United States was becoming a “runaway country” and a “banana republic.” He warned that the border was now “more dangerous than it’s every been in the history of our country.”

“We have a sick country in many ways,” Trump said. “It’s sick in elections, and it’s sick on the border.”

Some of Trump’s remarks were unrelated to border security. He discussed a cognitive test he took in 2020, which made him the topic of ridicule in some circles after reporters noted that the test — the Montreal Cognitive Assessment — is typically given to elderly people with declining mental health.

The first questions might have been easy — identifying animals, for example — but the questions got harder throughout the test, Trump said.

Former President Donald Trump greets law enforcement while arriving at a border security briefing to discuss further plans in securing the southern border wall on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, in Weslaco, Texas. (Brandon Bell/Pool via AP)

“I’d like to see Biden ace it. He won’t ace it,” Trump said. “I think he’s going to have a hard time with the first few, actually.” Abbott laughed.

Abbott, for his part, used the briefing to play up his ties to Trump and criticize the Biden administration. He said that Trump was a “great friend of Texas” and a “great friend of mine” and was “definitely better than any other president” at securing the border.

He said that “people along the border are having their lives turned upside down” and that Texans were “pleading” for “safety and security” because “the Biden administration is completely failing us.”

He touted some of his hardline border policies — including a controversial border-security disaster declaration and promises to build a wall — and warned that the border was facing a “far more dangerous situation than it’s ever been.” Local officials along the Texas borderlands, including in the Big Bend on the other side of the state, have pushed back against this rhetoric.

In Hidalgo County, where the border security briefing was held, local officials have refused to sign off on Abbott’s disaster declaration. On Monday, Abbott revised his disaster declaration, leaving out Hidalgo County and others.

In a phone interview on Wednesday, Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez -- the county's chief executive, not a court of law judge -- said there was “no evidence” that migrants were causing a spike in violent crimes. He said he didn't attend the border security briefing.

“The allegations of a crisis in Hidalgo County are not supported by evidence,” Cortez said. “There’s no evidence that [migrants] are committing violent crimes. There’s no evidence that renters or property owners are in jeopardy.”

Sergeant Frank Medrano, a spokesperson for the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, agreed. Deputies have been performing rescues and dealing with nuisance crimes, but there’s been no spike in border-related violence, he said.

“We haven’t seen a spike in violent crime,” Medrano said in a phone interview. “We are seeing the normal types of crimes, and we are rescuing a lot more people.”

Present at Wednesday’s summit was Sheriff Bill Waybourn of Tarrant County in Fort Worth, a roughly seven-hour drive from the border. He was there, Abbott said, to “explain further” why the governor's claims of border carnage are “not just a border-related issue.”

Texas Observer describes Waybourn as “Trump’s favorite Texas sheriff,” noting that he has “parroted President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.” Waybourn is less popular in Fort Worth, where he has faced scrutiny for the large number of deaths in his county jail, including at least 10 people in 2020. Last May, a infant died shortly after her mother gave birth in the jail. The sheriff explained in a statement that “the inmate did not immediately disclose the birth.”

Waybourn dedicated most his remarks to fentanyl, a dangerous opiate that he said Mexican cartels were pressing into pills to make it “look like a safe drug to the young people.” He said Texas needed “to draw a line in the sand to protect our children” and urged parents to “invade the space of their children and know what they’re doing on social media.”

Was the fentanyl “coming in from China?” Trump asked.

“No, sir,” Waybourn said. “It’s coming in from the cartel.”

“Are they getting it from China?” Trump asked.

“They are getting it from China,” Waybourn concurred.

Follow Stephen Paulsen on Twitter

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