As Air Force Once approached the Naval Air Facility El Centro on April 5, President Donald J. Trump was greeted by a message farmer Jim Abatti cut into a field near the base reading “Trump 2020.”
It was the first of many emotional reactions—both for and against—a man who is arguably among the most controversial presidents.
After briefly meeting with local officials at NAF, the president and his entourage set off for an invitation-only law enforcement round table discussion at the U.S. Border Patrol Calexico station east of town near Highway 98 and Barbara Worth Road.
Along the way he was greeted by clusters of supporters lining the streets near NAF and outside the Border Patrol station. As the motorcade arrived, all roads near the station were sealed by a law enforcement battalion. That only served to amp up excitement.
“I was there when he landed. I have a close friend who works at the base who was able to get me in and I was actually able to see the VP and Trump and shake their hands,” Dan Standiford said of his experience at NAF earlier that morning, explaining he had rushed from the base to the gathering on Barbara Worth Road to see Trump again. “I was there when Pence came six months ago and there was way more security this time.”
Pence visited Imperial County in April 2018 but did not accompany Trump for this visit.
The group outside the station consisted of families of Border Patrol agents waiting for a glimpse of the president as he arrived and left the law enforcement roundtable to which many Border Patrol agents were invited.
Mercedes Aldrete, who organized the pro Trump rally, explained, “Several of the wives of the Border Patrol agents home school their kids. We came up with the idea of supporting our husbands. We thought 20 would come. 200 people showed up all over the Imperial Valley, Yuma, and Indio. Forty of them were kids.”
The children were eager to share their thoughts and have their pictures taken with home-made signs reading “Thanks for our Wall” and “Kids Love Trump.”
Sharing the experience, Amaris Rothfleisch from Brawley said, “A few motorcycles came and then about 20 cars followed. He (Trump) was in a black SUV. I had so much adrenaline when the president passed by.”
Heidi Fiehler said she and her mother connected with the Border Patrol wives group on Facebook and came from Indio for the occasion.
Asked her most memorable experience of the day, she said, “Definitely seeing the car (with Trump inside), feeling the momentum. We were so excited. We go to see him (Trump) wave.”
Caleb Armenta wore his Boy Scout uniform and carried an American Flag.
“My favorite part was when everybody started yelling when they saw Trump. Seeing the cars go by, it was amazing. Not everybody gets to see something like this,” he said.
Trump’s next stop after the roundtable was visiting the border barrier on Calexico’s west end, the first segment constructed under his administration. Protestors abounded nearby, though were not allowed to approach the president. The protest was dubbed “Baby Trump Comes to Calexico” in reference to a giant balloon brought in that mocks the president.
Instead of blue, protestors said they wore white shirts to symbolize peace.
Demonstration organizer Maritza Hurtado, a former Calexico council member and mayor, said if she could ask the president a question it would be, “Does he know about our ‘little brown river’? The New River is the most polluted river in the nation. Or the ecological disaster that is the Salton Sea? And what is he willing to do about it?”
Juan Julian, a Calexico resident, stood under the Trump balloon wearing a sign around his neck reading “Your Ancestors are Ashamed of You.”
“We don’t need more walls. We need more bridges. Immigration is a basic right human right,” he said vehemently.
However, a Trump supporter in the gathering, Maritza Leyva, said attending was important to her.
“I don’t believe in all of the president’s actions,” she explained, “but he is still our president and that is why I came to support him. My father, husband and son are in the military. They must support their commanding officers whether or not they agree with those orders.”