President Trump is expected to face both cheers and jeers Tuesday when he spends part of his day in San Diego inspecting prototypes for his proposed border wall before attending a fundraiser in Los Angeles.
Opposition to the border wall, a key component of Trump’s campaign platform, has become a frequent talking point for California politicians eager to show their progressive state that they’re standing up to the Republican leader.
The San Diego City Council approved a resolution in September opposing the wall.
Though officials anticipated protests while the prototypes were under construction, the area near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry has seen little activity.
Other than a group from south of the border that used lights to project images supporting immigrants and refugees, the only organized action at the prototypes was a December pro-wall rally. A counterprotest temporarily interrupted that rally.
Jeff Schwilk, founder of San Diegans for Secure Borders and one of the organizers of the pro-wall rally, said he's planning another event in support of Trump's visit to the prototypes next week.
“We welcome President Trump’s visit to San Diego to inspect his new border wall prototypes and to see how our existing secure double fence in San Diego has reduced illegal border crossings here by over 90% during the past 10 to 15 years,” Schwilk said. “San Diego is living proof that border fences and walls keep us safe and we look forward to President Trump fulfilling his main campaign promise of finally securing our border.”
Ben Bergquam, founder of Frontline America and one of the organizers of the Build the Wall rally, said he planned to return to San Diego for Schwilk's event.
“We will be supporting every effort to build the wall and secure our borders,” Bergquam said. “It’s time to protect American dreamers.”
When asked about possible protests and what security would be required for the president’s visit, a representative for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said, “We are in the planning stages.”
Though border officials initially said they would set up a "free speech zone” for protests during prototype construction, the Sheriff's Department told the San Diego Union-Tribune in late September that no such area was established.
Michael Workman, a spokesman for the county, said a temporary restriction banning “implements of riot” — a move used in the past when large contentious groups were expected to gather — would probably be imposed in the area, but he did not know details yet.
San Diego police did not respond to questions about preparations.
Security for the prototypes cost the city of San Diego $278,000 and the sheriff nearly $900,000.
The last time Trump was in San Diego, police in riot gear dispersed large crowds that gathered downtown, some in protest and others in support of the controversial then-candidate.
Andrea Guerrero, executive director of Alliance San Diego, an organization that has staunchly opposed Trump’s wall and other immigration policies, said she hoped that Trump would realize that he’s coming to a place where immigrants make up a significant portion of the population.
“He’s coming to the land of immigrants, and he would do well to be respectful and recognize the dignity of the people who have built this state and contributed to the national economy and to understand that our border region in particular is a gateway to trade and opportunity,” Guerrero said.
She hoped he would listen to local perspectives on the border when he comes.
“We’re concerned about his myopic obsession with the wall, and we’re concerned about what happens in the shadow of that wall, which is the further militarization of our region,” Guerrero added. “We need to be more than a talking point in his fantastical world view. We should be considered a real stakeholder that provides input into decisions made about the border.”
She didn’t think that was a likely outcome.
“Given that he has waited more than a year to come down to visit the border, the place he’s spent a year talking about, it is unlikely that he will be open to listening,” Guerrero said.
Construction began on the prototypes in September and evaluations of the designs began at the end of November. Officials have tested how easy it would be to climb, break through or dig under the barriers.
None of the eight prototypes has yet been chosen by the Department of Homeland Security.
A recent construction project on border barriers in Calexico, hailed by some as the first part of the border wall, is not based on any of the prototypes.
Some have speculated that a visit from the president would be part of the final selection process.
When asked why it had taken Trump so long into his presidency to visit the Golden State, the White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I think it's because he's been busy growing the economy, creating jobs, defeating ISIS, remaking the judiciary. I'd be happy to name off some other successes.”
Trump's visit will come days after his administration sued the state of California over immigration policy.