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Trump to inspect drone, meet with Marines at Border Patrol station ahead of Arizona rally

President Donald Trump steps off of Air Force One MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, on Feb. 6, 2017.

AARON KNOWLES/U.S. ARMY

By DAVID NAKAMURA | The Washington Post | Published: August 22, 2017

President Donald Trump will inspect a Predator drone and meet with Marines at a Yuma, Arizona, Border Patrol station ahead of a major rally Tuesday night in Phoenix as he seeks to promote his administration's push to tighten immigration enforcement, senior officials said.

Trump aides touted progress in a conference call with reporters to preview the trip, stating that illegal crossings along the U.S.-Mexico border have plummeted 46 percent in the first seven months of the year compared to the same period in 2016. At the same time, the number of illegal immigrants removed from the interior of the country has increased by 32 percent, officials said.

"We've had significant successes . . . over a relatively short period time," said a senior Department of Homeland Security official, speaking on condition of anonymity as set by the terms of a White House that has regularly denounced the use of anonymous sources in news stories. All four administration officials who participated in the call did not allow their names to be used, citing the White House's rules.

Trump's visit to Yuma comes as the administration readies a new push for funding to start construction of a border wall that he made a core promise in his campaign. The White House dropped a demand for more than $1.5 billion in funding in the spring as part of Congress's deliberations over a stopgap spending bill, but senior aides have said the president is prepared to fight for the money in the fall. However, congressional leaders have balked as the idea of spending billions of dollars on a wall, saying the money could be better spent on other initiatives to boost enforcement.

The president aims to highlight Yuma's experience with a wall. The sector had 5.2 miles of wall and fencing in 2006 when Congress passed legislation to boost wall funding; Yuma now has 63 miles of wall, officials said, and illegal border crossings in the sector have fallen by 83 percent.

"What was once one of the least secure sectors in America is now one of the most secure because of investments in border security," the senior DHS official said.

Other officials on the call emphasized, however, that a wall does not work without additional technology and resources, as well as new roads and lighting, to help keep Border Patrol officers secure. They also made the case that, even though illegal border crossings have fallen, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are in need of the 15,000 new officers and agents that Trump has proposed in his executive order. Congress has yet to fund those new positions.

"Nowhere has any agency been faced with doing more with less than ICE has in past recent history," said another senior official on the call.

As part of his tour, Trump also will see a patrol boat and a surveillance truck, and he will receive a private briefing from officials at the patrol station.

Trump's visit to Phoenix comes nearly a year after he gave a major immigration speech in the city during his campaign, laying out his vision for stronger enforcement priorities. Last week, Trump told Fox News he was seriously considering a pardon for former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, an immigration hard-liner who was found guilty of criminal contempt in 2016 for ignoring a court order to stop detaining suspects without reasonable suspicion of a crime.

A White House official on the call declined to say whether Trump would pardon Arpaio during the rally.

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