Photo of Donald Trump

Remarks During a Roundtable Discussion With State, Local, and Community Leaders on Border Security and Safe Communities and an Exchange With Reporters

January 11, 2019

The President. Thank you, Pastor, very much. I appreciate it. That was beautiful.

So we're here today to address the humanitarian and security crisis on our southern border. I just got back. It was a sight to behold. Not pretty. Very dangerous. Drugs are flowing across. Human traffickers—you think of that as an ancient crime. It's not an ancient crime. It's more prevalent today in this world—far beyond the United States. It's a world crime given to us, very much, by the internet and bad people.

The internet has made things, in many ways, better and, in many ways, much worse. But human trafficking—grabbing women, in particular—and children, but women—taping them up, wrapping tape around their mouths so they can't shout or scream, tying up their hands behind their back and even their legs and putting them in a backseat of a car or a van, three, four, five, six, seven at a time.

They don't go through checkpoints. They go through areas that don't have a wall or don't have a steel barrier. They go up to the checkpoint, and before they get to it, they make a right or a left, depending on where they are, and they go out into the desert or out into the land, and they find the first area that doesn't have anything blocking its way. And they have minihighways all over the place. You can see it all over the place and it's not good.

And the only way you're going to stop it—the only way to stop it, without question—is with a very powerful wall or steel barrier.

[At this point, the President displayed a picture of a section of border wall titled "Typical Standard Wall Design."]

This is part of what we've just finished. This is a section that we're doing. This is what we've designed since I've been in. Some of the wall that they put up over the years—which, by the way, should have been put up whether it looked good or not—should have been put up a long time ago. We inherited a lot of problems, whether it's North Korea, whether it's the Middle East, whether it's a lot of other things. We took over a lot of problems, and we're straightening them out one by one.

One of the big problems we have is our border, our southern border. And we're going to take care of it. Now, the easy solution is for me to call a national emergency. I could do that very quickly. I have the absolute right to do it, but I'm not going to do it so fast, because this is something Congress should do, and we're waiting for the Democrats to vote. They should come back and vote. They want to go home. They're probably home by now.

And Nancy and Chuck and all of the folks that could settle this thing in 15 minutes—I used to say "45 minutes," now I say "15 minutes." It's so simple. We need money for a barrier. If we don't have a barrier, we're just wasting all of the other money. There's no technology that's any good. I'd think you'd say that. You know that probably better than anybody, most of you guys. You know, without the barrier, you don't have security. Without the barrier, you have people driving in, loaded up with drugs, with smuggled people, with all sorts of things that you don't want to know about. So we need a barrier. It's a very simple meeting.

We could also do a much more major form of immigration reform, and I'd look forward to doing that, along with many other people at the table, including our Vice President. And we look very much forward to moving on that. But first, we have to get a barrier, because it all doesn't work without protection.

The Rio Grande area where I was yesterday, you just have to look at it to see how dangerous it is. El Paso, Texas, went from one of the most unsafe parts or cities in the United States to one of the safest cities in the United States as soon as they put up the wall. They built a wall and fencing apparatus that blocked people. So they went from one of the most dangerous cities to one of the safest cities, all within a very short period of time.

It's common sense, folks. Everyone knows it works. Everyone knows it's not expensive. They say it's "medieval." Well, so is the wheel, medieval. I looked at all the vans and all of the serious equipment that they surrounded me with yesterday: the Secret Service, the police, the Border Patrol, ICE. Every one of those had the wheel. Well, they say wheels are medieval too. But some things don't change: wheels and walls. [Laughter] And they haven't found an alternative to either of those two, right? They haven't found an alternative.

So we want Congress to do its job. We want the Democrats to come back and vote, wherever they may be. I haven't left the White House except to go to Iraq for a very short period of time, where I had a great experience, frankly. I met some great people, some great generals. We have great ideas having to do with Syria.

And it's working out very well. Knocking the hell out of ISIS, and we're bringing our folks back home. And we're going to always have a presence. And it's working out very well. A lot of things are working out well. North Korea is working out very well. A lot of things are working out well, but the southern border is something that should be easy.

So what we're not looking to do right now is national emergency. What we want to do—we have the absolute right to do it. In many ways, it's the easy way out. But this is up to Congress, and it should be up to Congress, and they should do it. And if they can't do it—if they yell that "We can't do it. There's no way we can vote for security. There's no way we can vote for safety." All Nancy and Chuck have to do is tell me. And you know what? We'll start thinking about another alternative.

But this is one of the easy votes they'll ever have. It's very simple. And then, we go on to major reform on immigration. And I look forward to that, because after 50 years of talking about it, they should have done it.

And frankly, previous Presidents should have done the wall. It should have been done. Not just sections, small sections. The problem with doing a section of wall is, they come around it. So the wall works for the area that it is, but when you have the big openings, they just come around it. And we can't allow that to happen.

So we have great plans. I met yesterday with the Army Corps of Engineers. You know, we're building the wall right now as we speak. Somebody said, "Oh, but we had a billion-six and they haven't spent it." The reason we haven't spent it is because the contractors are building it. And unlike governments—and this Government, in particular—I like paying after it's built instead of before it's built. [Laughter] Okay? I learned that a long time ago, in building buildings. [Laughter] You let your contractor do the work and then you see if they did a good job. And if they didn't do a good job, don't pay them. And if they do a good job, pay them fast.

So a lot of fables were told. A lot of lies were told.

So we're building wall as we speak. We've done a lot of renovation. Some of the renovation, we had no choice; we had to rip it down and build new wall. You'll see that in San Diego and some other areas where we actually went to a new wall, because it was almost better and cheaper in some ways than trying to renovate old garbage that wasn't going to work. And in some cases, you had a good structure. You had a good basis—less expensive to renovate, generally speaking. And we've done a great job.

So we've done a lot of renovation. We've done new wall, and we're building the new wall as we speak. And the money that they sa+y we didn't spend has been spent, but it hasn't been paid. There's a big difference. And when the contractors finish up, they get paid, and they're doing a second section.

Army Corps has been very impressive. Working with them has been great. The new wall that we've designed is really beautiful. It's visual; you can see through it, which you have to be able to do. I mean, I'd like to have a concrete wall in one way, but in another way, it wouldn't be very effective, because you can't see to the other side.

So these are steel walls. And, in many cases, steel walls—it's steel that is—that has concrete inside. It's pumped into the steel. It's hollow, and it's pumped into the steel, so it's sort of a combination of both, which is not a bad combination.

So I just want to thank the people at this table: some very special people, some great friends of mine. And what I thought I'd do is just go down to my left, and maybe I'll have three or four of you say a few words to the press. And then, we could all start talking about what we'll be talking about, okay?

And, Bunny, you've been a friend of mine for a long time—right from the beginning—and I appreciate it. And maybe I'll start with you, and we'll go over to A.J.

Chester County, PA, Sheriff Carolyn "Bunny" Welsh. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President. I'm the Sheriff of Chester County, Pennsylvania. Thank you for inviting us here today. Chester County is located, as you know, just southwest of Philadelphia, an area you're familiar with.

The President. Very.

Sheriff Welsh. We're known as a healthy, wealthy, and wise county, and the home of QVC. [Laughter]

The President. That's right.

Sheriff Welsh. I like to tell you that because I want to let you know what a wonderful county it is of half a million people. And I want to share with you a very short story of a young boy named Ben, who took a trip one night from Chester County into the city of Philadelphia, where he acquired heroin laced with fentanyl. He brought that back to Chester County, and within an hour, he was dead.

[Sheriff Welsh continued her remarks, concluding as follows.]

But I just want to read you the last line of the letter he sent to you, Mr. President, relating to his son Ben. "His body was exposed to a heroin substance, new on the scene, laced with fentanyl—100 times the strength of morphine—which stopped his heart and breath, robbing us of our only beautiful boy. Drugs that came over our unprotected southern border . . ."—and by the way, the DEA did trace this directly to a cartel over the Mexican border. "Drugs that came over our unprotected southern border, wreaking havoc on the lives of hundreds of thousands of lives and millions of loved ones. We need to do something about this. Please, Mr. President, build the wall."

The President. Thank you. That's—please say hello. Okay? Thank you very much, appreciate it.

A.J. Sheriff.

Jackson County, TX, Sheriff A.J. "Andy" Louderback. Mr. President, from the men and women of law enforcement for the Federal, State, and local level, we thank you for standing tall for us.

The President. Thank you.

Sheriff Louderback. Let me address the word "manufactured" that we keep hearing. It's very demeaning to law enforcement, because it's not—there's not one agent, not any agency in this country that is not affected by manufacturing. And manufacturing, I mean by the metric ton of methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana that each agency in our Nation has to fight every single day. And it is extremely distressing to law enforcement to have to listen to the rhetoric about manufactured crisis, when we, for 10 years, over a decade, have been fighting this religiously every day. That affects every law enforcement agency in the United States on a constant basis.

So again, sir, thank you for your position on this and standing tall for us.

The President. Thank you, Sheriff. I appreciate it. And on Wednesday, you probably heard, a very young person with a great life ahead was stabbed viciously, violently killed by an MS-13 gang member who entered our country recently through the southern border. He had a friend with him; they both came in together. Here, just for a short while. Kills somebody. That wouldn't be the first. We have them locked up in pretty tough conditions. It's a disgrace. Came through the southern border.

Please. Say a few words, please.

International Church of Las Vegas Pastor Pasqual Urrabazo. Mr. President Trump, I'm Pastor Pasqual from the International Church of Las Vegas. Thank you for having me today. Thank you for everything you're doing for America.

The President. Thank you.

Pastor Urrabazo. I would like to share something with you about human trafficking, the crisis we're having. As you know, we're connected to California; Las Vegas, Nevada, is next door. Many of the girls that are being brought across the border through the San Diego area are—end up in Las Vegas. And what happens there is that, you know, they're illegal immigrants, families that are coming in, and we are—we're having these—the parents coming to the churches and asking us if could help them find their daughters because their daughters have been kidnapped and—you know, human trafficking.

[Pastor Urrabazo continued his remarks, concluding as follows.] And what happens with the parents, they're afraid to call law enforcement that come and help, so they come to the churches first. They feel they're going to get deported. So we're there as a safe place for them to come, but then we connect them with the police department and do educate the Hispanic communities that the police is not going to arrest them for something that's happening on human trafficking. So, sir, we need your help.

The President. So you are seeing human trafficking, especially with respect to young women?

Pastor Urrabazo. Yes.

The President. More now than ever before?

Pastor Urrabazo. Yes. Young women, yes.

The President. Pretty sad. Pretty sad. Thank you very much, Pastor. Appreciate it. Please.

Texas Department of Public Safety Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division Chief John Jones. Mr. President, thank you for letting me be here. John Jones, chief of the Intelligence Counterterrorism Division with the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The President. That's right. Great reputation, John.

Chief Jones. We've been there for about—I've been in that position for 10 years. And as you well know, with Texas, we've been dealing with this crisis for a very long time. Some of the things we see, and a lot of the discussion you hear is about unaccompanied children, but the thing that bothers me is some of the children in Texas.

[Chief Jones continued his remarks, concluding as follows.]

And for anybody to put a price on any child's life, that's our most precious and cherished national treasure, and we should do everything and anything as public safety servants, as parents, and as leadership to protect those children.

The President. And closing up that border to the bad people would be a great thing, John.

Chief Jones. Yes, sir.

The President. Great thing. Please. Thank you.

Victoria County, TX, Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor. Mr. President, howdy. [Laughter] I'm T. Michael O'Connor, I'm the sheriff of Victoria County. We're just north of Corpus Christi. We're part of that Harvey territory, which got damaged that you came—and we appreciate you and the Vice President coming to see us and visiting with us and supporting our progress.

[Sheriff O'Connor continued his remarks, concluding as follows.]

But I want to comment one more thing, and then I'll move on. I appreciate you taking ONDCP, putting it back on that Cabinet level. I serve on the Houston HIDTA, which takes, you know, Houston and all the way to South Texas. If it weren't for the HIDTAs and ONDCP and funding—and this is your best resource. Now, I'm sure some of the feds may differ, but there is a matrix of State, local, and Federal that are part of those HIDTAs across the Nation, and they are the subject matter expert, and they have helped us with information, intelligence, outreach, et cetera, to try to work on this.

But you know, until we have this means of a barrier wall—call it what you want——

The President. That's right. Sheriff O'Connor. ——you've got to have that before we can solve our problems down the road. Thank you, Mr. President.

The President. Thank you, Sheriff. You know, when you talk about the big trailers coming in and loaded up with people, and the doors are locked in the back, and sometimes, they're left abandoned, and they all die a hell of a death, they're suffocated—they come from the other side of the border. They don't go through a checkpoint. You can't go through a checkpoint, because they open up the back door, and they take a look. So you go—and they go out onto the different areas, depending on where you're going, what checkpoints are going, between the checkpoints.

Most of the problem—we get a lot of drugs, a lot of things at the checkpoints, but they're usually hidden in hubcaps, in engines, and under the floor. But the big stuff comes in in between the checkpoints. And the trailers come in loaded up with people, with the doors locked in the back. They don't even give them a chance. The doors are locked. And sometimes, you have the drivers running away. It's a disgrace.

These—all of this comes in between the checkpoints where there is no wall. Because you'll have some wall—a little wall—left and right of a checkpoint, generally speaking. But in between checkpoints, you might have 50 miles, 60 miles, even 100 miles. And that's where tremendous problems occur. And even yesterday, I read where, fairly close to where I was, like 26 people were killed.

Sheriff O'Connor. Yes—[inaudible].

The President. Gang members and drug dealers, they were killed like a few days ago, right next to where I spent quite a bit of time with great people from Border Patrol. You know about that. You heard about that.

Sheriff Louderback. [Inaudible]

The President. This was like—you know, it's amazing, because I get—it got no publicity. I didn't see it. You don't read about this stuff. They're not telling you the truth about—really, you're doing this country a tremendous disservice. You're not telling the truth about the criminal activity and the crime. Twenty-six people or thereabouts. What was the number? Twenty-six?

Sheriff O'Connor. Yes, sir.

The President. Twenty-six people were killed over the last couple of days. Nobody even talks about it. I haven't heard about this young person that was killed yesterday, 16 years old—brutally murdered—I haven't heard anything about it.

The media is not telling the American public how—how bad it is, how dangerous it is. I mean, I read a little story about the 26. I said, "How could that be a small story?" But what's going on—the crime, and the drugs, and the smuggling, and the—of everything, including children. We're talking women, yes. But probably, the biggest victim of everything we're talking about today are children.

And children are used. They're dropped on the border, and they're used to get people across, because they have an advantage—because of the stupidity of what we've got and laws that we've inherited, they have an advantage if they have a child. So they grab children at the border. They walk across. They get across easier if you have children. So they're just using the children. Then, they tell them to get out of here. The worst victims are the children and the women. And you don't write about it. You know, you write about nonsense. You write about Nancy Pelosi saying it's immoral to have a wall. It's immoral to have all these people killed. These people are being killed, and you don't report it, because you're fake news. You don't report it, many of you. Twenty-six people killed, and I didn't even hear about it.

I mean, nobody even knows about it. And that's—how close it that to where I was yesterday? It was right alongside, I think. Right? How far was that away?

Sheriff O'Connor. Miles. Miles away. Not far at all.

The President. Miles away. You don't even hear about it, because you don't want to tell the story of what's going on at the border. You don't want to tell the story about how dangerous it is. So you have people get up and say walls are immoral. What's immoral is what's going on. It's—there's never been anything like it. And we can stop it so easy.

And the Border Patrol and ICE—they're doing a fantastic job. But we're not giving them the equipment when we're not giving them the walls or the steel barriers or whatever you want to call it. We're not giving them the equipment.

Remember El Paso? Remember what I said about El Paso? From one of the worst to one of the best.

Yes, ma'am. Please go ahead.

San Diego County, CA, Supervisor Kristin Gaspar. I'm San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar. We're the fifth largest county in the Nation. We actually have the busiest land crossing in the entire world. And we do rely on our border to maintain that strong, binational economy. But at the same time, we rely on our border to keep us safe.

[County Supervisor Gaspar continued her remarks, concluding as follows.]

Now, 2,200 miles from Washington, DC, representatives like me are held accountable by these families and these victims each and every day, while a standoff continues here. And so I challenge our congressional Members to meet with these families, to meet with these victims, to look them in the eye and tell them that this is not a crisis.

Thank you for the opportunity to be here.

The President. Thank you very much. Thank you very much. And this is where I ask the Democrats to come back to Washington and to vote for money for the wall, the barrier, whatever you want to call it is okay with me. They can name it whatever. They can name it "peaches." I don't care what they name it. But we need money for that barrier.

I will say this: The Republicans have been rock solid. They want this to happen. They've wanted it to happen a long time ago, and frankly, for many years. I'm not just talking about now. I'm talking about for years.

I gave, yesterday, an example. With Israel, for many years, everybody campaigning for President said they were going to move the Embassy to Jerusalem—the American Embassy to Jerusalem. This went on, Pastor, as you know, for many, many years. Many, many Presidents, dating back all the way to—who was the first? And they never did it.

And I said the same thing—same words, same campaign. But I did it; I got it done, and people are very happy. Jewish population and evangelicals, unbelievably happy. I did it. I understand why they didn't do it, because it was very tough to do. It met with a lot of nasty talk before I did it. And then, I did it. And it was done.

And now we've just opened up the Embassy, as you know, long ahead of budget and schedule and way under budget. Like, how about a billion dollars under budget? Opened it up for almost nothing, an existing building that we renovated.

But the fact is: For years and years, I heard about the Embassy going to Jerusalem and the—people would campaign. They were in for 4 years. They were in for 8 years. They'd never get it done. I got it done.

This is a very similar thing. I've been hearing about putting a really good wall—and in my case, I like to say a "beautiful" wall, because I think it makes a difference. I've seen some of the wall they put up; it's so unattractive that I understand why other people don't want it. [Laughter] But this is a great-looking—this is a great-looking structure. I mean, it's going to look great.

It's going to do the trick beyond belief. It's far better than anybody had projected. We have it at a much lower cost. And it's better. It's stronger. It's better. And you have the vision through. You have—you're able to see through. But we're going to get it done.

And I compare that to the Embassy, because they talked about it for 45, 50 years—longer. And we got it done. We're going to get this done too.

Now, Republicans are rock solid. I have to hand it to him—Mitch McConnell. Every one of them—Kevin—they have been so strong on this. I'm very impressed.

The Democrats are just following politics. And I'm not saying that for any reason other than—I guess they're looking at 2020. They think, "Gee, if we can hurt Trump, we'll have a better chance of winning an election."

This isn't about winning an election. This is very simply—very, very simply—about doing what's right for the country. And we have to do what's right for the country. This is common sense. This is not sending rockets to the Moon. This is common sense. We have to have this. This country has to have it.

They've been talking about it for 35 years. And they do little pieces: a little piece here, a little piece there. Put a piece where we need it. The people just go around it. We have to have it. It's got to get done. It's got to get done now.

Congress has to do its duty, and the Democrats have to help us. They have to come back to Washington, and they have to vote for border security. They have to vote for safety. It's national security too. They have to come back, and they have to vote. It will take us 15 minutes, and then we're going to get on to much bigger immigration reform, because we should do that. We should do that.

I want to thank everybody for being here. We're going to have, now, the rest of the meeting. Media, thank you very much. I appreciate it. Thank you.

Q. Mr. President, when will you sign the backpay bill?

Federal Employees/Border Security

Q. Mr. President, any message to the Federal employees? Any message to the Federal employees who are not getting paid today? Any message? The President. The message is that I appreciate their service to the country. They are incredible people, the Federal employees that we're talking about. But many of them agree with what I'm saying and what the people in this room, who are experts, are saying. They don't want to see people killed because we can't do a simple border structure. And I appreciate their incredible support.

We have, yesterday it was—I was watching this morning and reading this morning that so many people are saying the President is doing what's right, and even though it's affecting us short-term, temporarily—as you know, a bill was just passed, which I will sign, in Congress, making sure that everybody is going to be paid immediately upon—when this is over.

But I just really appreciate the fact that they have handled it so incredibly well. And many of them agree with what we're doing. We have no choice.

Steve [Steve A. Holland, Reuters], go ahead.

The President's National Emergency Powers/Border Security

Q. Twenty-four hours ago, you were saying that you were probably going to declare a national emergency. What——

The President. No, I said I could do it. But it's——

Q. What's changed over the last 24 hours?

The President. Well, I'll tell you what. It's the easy way out, but Congress should do this. This is too simple. It's too basic. And Congress should do this. If they can't do it—if, at some point, they just can't do it—this is a 15-minute meeting. If they can't do it, I will declare a national emergency. I have the absolute right to do it, it says, as clear as you can.

Now, what will happen? I'll be sued. It will be brought to the Ninth Circuit. And maybe, even though the wording is unambiguous, just like with the travel ban, it will be appealed to the Ninth Circuit, and we'll probably lose there too. And then, hopefully, we'll win in the Supreme Court.

But that's what happens. You can take the most perfectly worded document, as we have in this case, and they'll always bring it to the Ninth Circuit. And then, you never know what's going to come out of the Ninth Circuit. And you never know what's going to come out on appeal. But fortunately, we have a Supreme Court that's treated us very fairly.

So I'd rather not do it, because this is something that Congress should easily do. This is something that the Democrats should do. And I don't want to give an easy way out of something as simple as this. Not only simple, it's easy, and it's going to secure our—you know, we have a country that is under siege. You could—actually, you know a lot of people don't like the word "invasion." We have a country that's being invaded by criminals and by drugs. And we're going to stop it.

So I want the Democrats to come back to Washington and vote. Thank you very much. Thank you, everybody. Thank you. Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.

Border Security

Q. And you don't have anything to say about these accusations that you're overhyping the problem? The President. Thank you very much. Thank you. Good job yesterday. I appreciate your salesmanship. I appreciate your salesmanship.

Q. I didn't see an invasion at the border, Mr. President.

The President. Oh, you didn't? I know. That's because we had a wall.

Q. Actually, there are portions that didn't have a wall.

The President. Some people are dumb. Some people are dumb. Big promotion for us. That was a big promotion. Did you see that last night? He thought it was supposed to be the other way around. It didn't exactly work out that way. Maybe they'll reduce his salary. Like in the private sector, if you do something bad, you get fired or they reduce your salary.

Q. Have a nice weekend.

The President. Thank you. You too, Jim [Jim Acosta, CNN].

NOTE: The President spoke at 3:24 p.m. in the Cabinet Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Jentezen Franklin, senior pastor, Free Chapel in Gainesville, GA, who opened the roundtable discussion with a prayer; Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi; Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer; Senate Majority Leader A. Mitchell McConnell; and House Minority Leader Kevin O. McCarthy. He also referred to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist organization; and S. 24. The transcript was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on January 12.

Donald J. Trump, Remarks During a Roundtable Discussion With State, Local, and Community Leaders on Border Security and Safe Communities and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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