(CN) – President Donald Trump held a roundtable discussion Friday ahead of his tour of a newly fortified 30-foot, 2.5-mile section of the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Calexico, California, capping off a week of pushback by California’s elected leaders against the president’s immigration policies.
The president’s visit follows his threat this week to “shut down” the U.S.-Mexico border if Mexico does not stop asylum seekers from crossing. On Thursday, Trump walked back his comments saying he’d give Mexico one year to meet his demands on immigration and cutting off the flow of drugs into the United States.
A five-hour shutdown of the San Ysidro Port of Entry in 2018 led to economic losses of $5 million in the south San Diego region.
Government and business leaders in San Diego and along the border warned Trump this week an extended border shutdown would devastate the economy.
But at a roundtable discussion Friday with immigration agents who work along the U.S.-Mexico border in Calexico, Trump reiterated he is “totally willing to close the border” and again suggested people who legally seek asylum are scamming the system.
“It’s a scam, it’s a hoax and I know about hoaxes – I just went through one,” Trump said.
“The system is full and when it’s full you have to say ‘I’m sorry there’s nothing we can do,’” he continued. “Part of it is just a scam, people want to come in and they shouldn’t be coming in.
“We can’t take you anymore whether it’s asylum or illegal immigration. Turn around, that’s the way it is.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom criticized Trump’s suggestion asylum should be eliminated, saying in a statement the president’s “words show a total disregard of the Constitution, our justice system and what it means to be an American.”
Trump’s roundtable preceded his visit to 2.5 miles of new border fencing in Calexico, which was built between February and October 2018 following the Department of Homeland Security’s waiver of nearly 30 environmental and public health laws.
California, the Center for Biological Diversity along with a host other environmental groups sued to block the waivers. A federal judge in the Southern District of California upheld the waivers, a ruling that was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit.
Laiken Jordahl, the borderlands campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity said in a phone interview the replacement wall project in Calexico could not have been built without the waivers, and the local community is paying the price.
“The Calexico community was not protected by the Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and other public health and environmental laws while the wall was being built. It’s a textbook example of environmental racism,” Jordahl said.
“In no other part of the country are laws being tossed aside to fulfill campaign promises. Calexico already suffers public health issues related to water quality and air quality and the last thing it needed was for the government to weaken what little environmental protections are in place,” Jordahl added.
But at Trump’s roundtable, officials working on the ground in Calexico said the new border fence has dramatically reduced the number of illegal border crossings and use-of-force incidents this year.
Calexico Border Patrol Sector Chief Gloria Chavez said there has been a 75% decrease in the number of illegal entries in the area this year and that agents have identified 193 “fake” families who attempted to claim asylum.
Trump later toured part of the new fence in Calexico which he said is more effective and was faster and less expensive to build than the previous fence. He said the majority of new fencing “would be built in this style” which includes steel slates that are see-through. He also said the fences would vary from 12, 15, or 30 feet tall depending on the area they are built in.
The president’s visit caps a week where California’s elected leaders pushed back against his policies on immigration and the border.
San Diego’s majority-Republican Board of Supervisors sued the Department of Homeland Security Wednesday for abandoning its “Safe Release” program to help asylum seekers with travel plans to sponsors throughout the country.
The county has had to pay for medical screening and provide facilities to operate a temporary migrant shelter in the six months since the government abandoned the program.
On Friday, California and 19 other states moved to block Trump from diverting $1.6 billion in federal funds to build the border wall through his declaration of a national emergency. The U.S. House of Representatives also filed a lawsuit related to the emergency declaration Friday.