WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump said Tuesday he is “100 percent” prepared to close down the US-Mexico border, warning Congress and Central American governments to take action to stem the flow of migrants into the country, reports AFP.
Delays were already increasing at several key border crossings as Trump ratcheted up pressure on Democrats in Congress to toughen US laws against illegal immigrants, threatening to hurt the US economy in the name of border security.“It is a national emergency on the border,” Trump said.
If Mexico does not stop migrants from transiting across its territory, and if Congress does not act, he said, “the border’s going to be closed, 100 percent.”
“Sure it’s going to have a negative impact on the economy,” he said. “Security is more important to me than trade.”
Trump said Democrats were blocking reforms for political reasons but could fix the problem “in 45 minutes.”
He was not specific, but Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has asked Congress to give border officials the power to forcibly repatriate Central American illegal immigrants, including children who arrived alone, back to their countries.
The threat to close the frontier, which handled some $612 billion worth of trade in 2018, sent shivers through the economy, and drew warnings from allies of the president.“Closing down the border would have potentially catastrophic economic impact on our country, and I would hope we would not be doing that sort of thing,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
McConnell’s call was backed by the Chamber of Commerce, which said in a statement that while it supported immigration reform, closing the border “would inflict severe economic harm on American families, workers, farmers and manufacturers across the United States.”
Despite Trump’s tough rhetoric, Mexico’s foreign minister said he had spoken with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had told him the border would not be shut.
“Until today, the secretary of state of the United States and his team have told us: this is not the policy we are going to apply, closing points on the border,” Marcelo Ebrard said at a press conference.
Ebrard added Mexico continued to maintain “a good dialogue” with US authorities and that normal border traffic was expected “as soon as possible.”
Homeland Security officials meanwhile said they were preparing for the possibility of a shutdown of at least some border entry points as they divert staff to deal with the flood of migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, expected to hit nearly 100,000 a month.
Officials said facilities for handling the migrants—who for the moment cannot be sent back after they cross the border and request asylum—are overtaxed and understaffed, creating hazardous conditions.
“We are in a full blown emergency. The bottom line is all options are on the table right now,” a senior Homeland Security official, who declined to be named, told journalists Tuesday.