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What's The Reaction At The Border To President Trump's Speech?


It's been about two years since he took office, and last night, President Trump gave his first prime-time address from the Oval Office. He wanted to explain why he wants a wall on the border with Mexico.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This barrier is absolutely critical to border security. It's also what our professionals at the border want and need. This is just common sense.

GREENE: The president said there is a humanitarian and security crisis. He spoke about drugs coming over the border, also Americans killed by people in the country illegally. And we are fact-checking the address on the program this morning, but we're going to turn right now to the other side of the border to see how the president's message was received. NPR's Carrie Kahn is in Reynosa, Mexico. And Carrie, what is that - right across the Rio Grande from Texas, right?

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Yes, right across the border.

GREENE: So where did you watch this presidential address, and who were you watching with?

KAHN: I was at a migrant shelter, and it's right on the banks of the Rio Grande. You could actually see the lights of McAllen, Texas, right from the shelter. There's people from all over Central America there, and there were many deported Mexicans, too, there. The director asked the women - the men and women if they wanted to watch President Trump's speech, and about 20 dragged folding chairs into a small office and lined them up in front of a big-screen TV. They don't have cable at the shelter, but they were able to get a broadcast signal from across the river and watch the speech with Spanish interpretation dubbed over on the U.S. network, Univision.

GREENE: Interesting to watch this from that side of the border. So how were people reacting?

KAHN: You know, they were pretty stone-faced during President Trump's speech. Many shook their heads disapprovingly, you know, when the president said more of his disparaging comments about immigrants, especially when he talked about illegal aliens bringing drugs and committing murder and violent crimes in the U.S. But when the Democrats spoke, there were more audible responses. And then at the end, they - when they finished, they - everyone broke into applause.

One woman, a 51-year-old woman from Honduras, Maria Alfaro, she was really struck by the president's comments about violence women experience during the trek north, especially in Mexico. She said she was a crime victim in southern Mexico, and if the president understands what she's gone through to get to the U.S., why doesn't he have compassion for her and allow her into the country? She said she's fleeing violence back home and death threats and will come into the U.S. legally.

MARIA ALFARO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: She said she has proof of her asylum claim, and she'll go through the port of entry here at McAllen, Texas.

GREENE: You mentioned that Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer giving the Democratic response and also accusing the president of keeping the government in the United States shut down over this, which has been so much part of the theme in the conversation here in the U.S. Has that come up in Mexico, or is this whole issue seen in a different way?

KAHN: I think some people understand the politics going on across the border, but, you know, they're just looking at it through their personal experience, right here, right now, after this long trek they've made to the border. Many just expressed dismay. They kept saying why is the president so against Hispanics, as they put it. They don't understand all of his rhetoric. They say they're just coming to work and not cause harm.

I spoke with several Mexicans who've been deported for various reasons and want to get back to jobs and families they've had in the U.S. You know, this one man was deported after 20 years living in Tennessee. He says he himself was a crime victim and just wants to get back to a good construction job he had there.

GREENE: Any other moments stand out to you in the president's address?

KAHN: I guess, you know, the repeated claims of crime and drug smuggling by immigrants stands out, especially since, historically, the number of illegal immigrants coming across the southwest border is at an all-time low if you compare it to, like, a decade ago. Yes, the number of families with kids from Central America is on the rise, but, historically, the numbers, you know, just don't show this huge crisis here. And like you said, our own fact-checkers at npr.org are breaking down those numbers and those claims, also the ones about crime.

GREENE: NPR's Carrie Kahn in Reynosa, Mexico. Thanks, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.