WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump said he will close the southern border next week unless Mexico “immediately” stops illegal migration into the U.S., which his Homeland Security secretary said threatens a “systemwide meltdown” at her agency.
“Closing the border will be a profit-making operation,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., on Friday. “There’s a very good likelihood that I’ll be closing the border next week.”
He said he plans to hold a news conference soon at a section of the border where the government is building a wall.
“Mexico could stop it,” Trump said. “It’s very easy for them to stop people from coming up, and they choose not to do it.”
Trump has periodically threatened to close the border, where he has declared a national emergency because of the number of migrants crossing illegally. It’s unclear what he means, since closing the border entirely would halt millions of dollars worth of cross-border commerce. Trade with Mexico totaled $616 billion in 2017, according to the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, speaking in Spanish, told reporters that “we are going to help, we want to have a good relationship with the United States government. We are not going to enter in controversy.”
He said that some of Trump’s complaints are related to politics and “the electoral process.” The country’s foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, was less conciliatory.
“Mexico does not act on the basis of threats,” he said in a tweet written in Spanish. “We’re a great neighbor. Just ask the million and a half Americans who chose our country as home.”
After touring a dike at Lake Okeechobee in Florida on Friday, Trump told reporters that Latin American countries including Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador have done nothing to help the U.S. halt migration.
“We’ll keep it closed for a long time,” Trump said of the border. “I’m not playing games.”
He also criticized Colombia’s President Ivan Duque Marquez, saying the flow of drugs to the U.S. has increased since his election.
Apprehensions of undocumented immigrants spiked in February to more than 76,000, an increase of more than 39,000 compared to a year earlier, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. More than half were families or unaccompanied children, the agency reported.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a letter to Congress sent Thursday that apprehensions will near 100,000 this month, and that her agency faces a “systemwide meltdown.” There are 4,700 migrant children in detention facilities run by Customs and Border Patrol, she wrote, calling the figure “a symptom of a broken system.”
“DHS facilities are overflowing, agents and officers are stretched too thin, and the magnitude of arriving and detained aliens has increased the risk of life-threatening incidents,” she wrote. She asked Congress for more money to build detention facilities for the migrants, and also wants the authority to rapidly deport children from Central America “if they have no legal right to stay.”
Nielsen’s agency is required to hand off most children it apprehends to shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services, which she said in her letter is also running out of space.
A senior U.S. administration official told reporters in a conference call that the Department of Homeland Security is moving border agents from U.S. ports of entry on the border to patrol areas between them, where most illegal border crossings happen. The official said no preparations are yet being made to close the border, but that if the flow of migrants continues to increase the U.S. might “degrade” operations at ports.
Most congressional Democrats and some Republicans have disagreed that there was an emergency. Congress passed a resolution earlier this month disapproving of Trump’s plan to divert money from the Pentagon to construction of a border wall. Trump vetoed the resolution and Democrats couldn’t muster the votes to override him.