By Steve Holland
SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump will check out prototypes for the wall he promised to build on the U.S. border with Mexico on Tuesday, bringing a tough message on illegal immigration to California during his first visit as president to the state.
The Republican president plans to take aim at so-called “sanctuary cities” – local governments that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials seeking to deport illegal immigrants – in the heavily Democratic state that has served as a base of resistance to many of his policies.
Trump landed in San Diego on Tuesday morning on his way to the border region to review models of the type of wall he wants to serve as a protective barrier against illegal immigrants, drugs and smuggled weapons.
He has asked the U.S. Congress for $18 billion to build the structure, but the funding has become ensnared in controversy over a host of immigration restrictions he and Republicans have proposed.
On the other side of the border, in Tijuana, Mexico, residents laughed off the idea that the monolithic slabs will stop desperate immigrants.
“The wall is just a waste of money. People will continue to cross, here, there, and everywhere,” said Salome Pacheco.
Last week, Trump’s Justice Department filed a lawsuit accusing California of violating the U.S. Constitution and putting federal agents in danger by approving laws protecting illegal immigrants.
California Democratic Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law last October that prevents police from inquiring about immigration status and curtails law enforcement cooperation with immigration officers.
Brown, who accuses the Trump administration of waging war on the country’s most populous state, has said the law was crafted with input and support from California police.
In his public remarks on Tuesday, Trump is expected to renew his concern that Los Angeles, San Francisco and other major cities are providing protection for illegal immigrants who have committed crimes.
Tom Homan, acting director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, said in a conference call with reporters on Monday night that Brown, U.S. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and U.S. Democratic Representative Nancy Pelosi were inflaming the situation by accusing federal agents of preying on immigrants.
“We don’t arrest law-abiding people,” Homan said. “We arrest people who are in the country illegally and violate federal law.”
Ahead of the trip, an immigration official in Northern California resigned, accusing the Trump administration of making misleading statements about a four-day raid in February to arrest illegal immigrants in Oakland.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said a public warning from Oakland’s mayor helped more than 800 people evade arrest. But James Schwab, who quit his job as regional spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement department, said he believed the number was much lower.
“I quit because I didn’t want to perpetuate misleading facts,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper.
After his San Diego stop, Trump will travel to Los Angeles to headline a political fundraiser in Beverly Hills. A Republican Party official said the fundraiser would net $5 million for Trump’s prospective 2020 re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz and Delphine Schrank in Tijuana, Mexico; additional writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Peter Cooney and Rosalba O’Brien)