President Trump traveled to the southwestern border on Tuesday to lift his flagging re-election campaign with a renewed anti-immigrant appeal, bragging about his sustained assault on migrants and once again exaggerating the progress his administration has made in constructing a “big, beautiful wall” along the border with Mexico.
In a visit with handpicked border officials and Republican allies in Yuma, Ariz., Mr. Trump sought to revive the issue at the heart of his 2016 victory: his portrayal of immigrants as a threat to the economic and personal security of Americans and his promise to close the United States off from much of the world.
“My administration has done more than any administration in history to secure our southern border,” Mr. Trump boasted, citing the completion of about 220 miles of what he called a “powerful new” wall on the border. “It’s the most powerful and comprehensive border wall structure anywhere in the world.”
For more than a half-hour, the president elicited gushing praise from his border and immigration officials, who lauded his “leadership and determination” and repeatedly thanked the president for what Mark Morgan, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, called “220 new miles of wall system that gives us an enhanced capability that we never had.”
In fact, all but three of the 216 miles of border wall constructed by the Trump administration are essentially much larger replacements of existing, dilapidated fences or vehicle barriers — a fact that Mr. Trump and his immigration advisers routinely dismiss.
The rate of construction has increased as the administration waived federal contracting laws, pressing ahead with 100 miles of wall in the past five months. But Mr. Trump will not make good on his original campaign promise to build a wall along the entire border and have Mexico pay for it. Instead, Mr. Trump secured much of the $15 billion of funding from other government and military spending to build the barrier.
And he has a long way to go to reach his more modest milestone of 450 miles of constructed border wall by the end of the year. Standing in his way are private landowners in South Texas, one of the areas along the border most prone to illegal crossings. More than 200 miles of the proposed wall construction must take place on private land in the Laredo and Rio Grande Valley sectors of Texas.
Mr. Trump was scheduled to deliver a campaign-style speech to young conservative voters in Phoenix later in the afternoon. But he used the event in Yuma to accuse Democrats in Congress and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., his rival in the presidential election, of being weak on border security.
“The Biden people — and he’s controlled totally by the radical left, as you understand, he’s not controlling, they’re controlling him — they want open borders, they want criminal sanctuaries, they want everything that doesn’t work,” he said.
In a statement before the president’s arrival in Arizona, Mr. Biden called Mr. Trump’s decision to hold a rally in Phoenix “reckless and irresponsible” given recent spikes in the number of coronavirus cases in the state.
The state had 3,591 new cases on Monday, the highest single-day increase since the start of the pandemic.
“Instead of doing the hard work needed to solve the public health and economic crises facing America, Donald Trump remains focused on his expensive, ineffective and wasteful ‘wall’ on our southern border,” Mr. Biden said. “Make no mistake: This visit is a distraction. It’s a distraction from Donald Trump’s failed response to combat the spread of Covid-19.”
Arizona is a critical state for the president’s re-election prospects at a time when polls suggest his fortunes across the country are dipping in the wake of the economic downturn and his administration’s handling of the coronavirus.
The state, with its 11 electoral votes, has been a Republican stronghold in presidential contests since 1996, when Bill Clinton carried the state. But Democrats are hoping that Mr. Biden will finally be able to take Arizona back in the fall.