President Donald Trump repeatedly threatened on Friday to close the southern border unless Mexico stems the flow of migrants headed for the United States.
“I will close the border if Mexico doesn’t get with it,” Trump said at a press conference from a couch at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
“There is a very good likelihood that I will be closing the border next week,” he added.
It’s a threat Trump has made before, frustrated by Congress’ refusal to fully fund his border wall and by the number of asylum-seekers and other migrants continuing to come to the U.S. without authorization. Now, with numbers of families apprehended at the border hitting record numbers, he is again vowing to shut down entry entirely.
But thus far, he hasn’t followed through, and it’s unclear that he will this time, either. A senior Department of Homeland Security official told reporters earlier Friday that the agency was not planning for a border shutdown next week.
The official said agents were being reassigned to areas between official ports of entry due to a surge in migrants attempting to cross between ports.
Noting that a more severe shutdown was still “on the table,” the official said around noon on Friday that the department’s plan stopped short of completely closing any official port; individual lanes may need to be closed due to the redistribution of agents.
DHS will continue to “operationally assess” the situation at the border, the official said.
Shutting down the border would be a last resort, the official said.
Trump sent a series of tweets Friday morning pledging to either completely close the border or close “large portions” of it, and made the suggestion again a few hours later while speaking to reporters at an event at Florida’s Lake Okeechobee.
He has yet to offer precise details on any possible shutdown. It remains unclear, for instance, whether the border would be closed only to asylum-seekers or closed to everyone.
“If they don’t stop them, we are closing the border,” Trump said at Lake Okeechobee. “We will close it and keep it closed for a long time. I’m not playing games.”
The senior DHS official said her department was working with Mexican officials to come up with solutions that might encourage migrants to stay in Mexico instead of continuing north, which could include additional work visas for areas in southern Mexico. Many of the migrants are coming from the violent and tumultuous nations of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and attempt to request asylum in the U.S.
The Trump administration has already made it significantly more difficult for asylum-seekers to ask for help at ports of entry by accepting only relatively small numbers per day, and implemented a “Remain in Mexico” policy that returns some asylum-seekers to the country to await legal proceedings. The administration’s policies have driven migrants to risk crossing the border illegally instead, according to experts.
About 65 percent of the immigrants detained after crossing the southern border illegally in February were either families or children traveling alone, according to Customs and Border Protection statistics.
Elise Foley contributed to this report.