US President Donald Trump speaks to military personnel at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP)

SAN DIEGO - AFP
Trump, in California, warns of 'bedlam' without border wall

Donald Trump - making his first trip to California as president - warned on Tuesday (Mar 13) there would be "bedlam" without the controversial wall he wants to build on the border with Mexico, as he inspected several prototype barriers.

The trip to the "Golden State" - the most populous in the country and a Democratic stronghold - was largely upstaged by his own announcement that he had sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

On the other side of the border, a small group of anti-Trump protesters vented their frustration, and announced plans to boycott US businesses over the frontier.

"For the people who say 'no wall' - if you didn't have walls over here, you wouldn't even have a country," Trump said near the border in San Diego.

Trump repeated his insistence that law enforcement personnel should be able to see through the structure so that they could monitor criminal cartels that might be "two foot away" on the Mexican side.

"Without a wall there would be bedlam, I imagine," he added.

Trump inspected eight 30-foot high (nine-metre) full-scale models made of concrete and steel, erected side-by-side at Otay Mesa, an area in southern San Diego along the border with Tijuana, Mexico.



US President Donald Trump holds up a poster of before and after photos of a segment of the border wall prototypes with Chief Patrol Agent Rodney S. Scott (right) in San Diego, California. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP)


Each prototype cost more than US$300,000 and, according to some estimates, the complete wall could carry a US$20 billion price tag.


'ENVIRONMENTAL CATASTROPHE'

Congress has yet to approve the funding amid skepticism and Democratic opposition, but an administration official said the wall would save far more money than it cost.

California has been at the forefront of resistance to the Republican leader's anti-immigration agenda and at odds with his stance on a number of other issues, from gun control to marijuana and the environment.

Trump skewered California's Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, saying he'd done "a terrible job" of running a state where the taxes were "way out of whack" and criminals were allowed to roam free in sanctuary cities.

He said he had seen estimates that the "intolerably high" illegal immigration costs came to US$100 billion a year in terms of drugs, crime, education and social services.

The hulking prototypes can be seen from across the border in Tijuana, where residents are not overly impressed with the real estate tycoon, who launched his presidential campaign calling Mexicans "criminals" and "rapists."

Ahead of the visit, a few dozen people gathered for a pro-Trump rally on the US side of the border near the prototypes, while a similar number of the president's detractors came to the San Ysidro border post.

"This is an environmental catastrophe, on top of a misallocation of government resources that could be used for health care or social services," Cody Petterson, president of the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action, said of the wall.

Demonstrators draped themselves in US flags and waved placards emblazoned with slogans such as "Humpty Trumpty will fall off his wall," "Resist unstable idiot," and "No hate in the Golden State."


'YOU CAN GET OVER IT'

Among Trump's supporters, Kira Innis, 31, said she was backing Trump "because he doesn't give a good gosh darn about somebody's color, he cares about putting more green in their pocket."

On the Mexican side, federal police had to persuade around 50 demonstrators not to burn a yellow-haired pinata in Trump's likeness.

Pointing to one of the prototypes towering behind the corrugated metal border fence, Eladio Sanchez, 30, admitted that it might slow him down, but noted: "You can get over it anyway."

The border with Mexico stretches nearly 3,200 kilometres and about a third of it already has some type of barrier or wall.

Trump's insistence that Mexico pay for the wall has soured relations and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto recently canceled plans to visit Washington amid continuing disagreement.

Before leaving San Diego, a military port, the president congratulated troops at Miramar Marine Corps air base on the coalition's taking back "almost 100 per cent" of the Islamic State group's captured territory in Syria and Iraq.

"They never got hit like this. We took off the gloves. In one year we did more damage to ISIS than other administrations, a certain other administration, did in many years," he said.

He didn't name which of his predecessors he was referring to, although the Islamist insurgency's most significant advances were made after 2013, during Barack Obama's second term.

Trump is expected to wrap up his visit with an evening of fundraising in Beverly Hills to raise money for his 2020 re-election campaign.

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