After capping the last season of Border Crisis with a dramatic national emergency declaration, the Trump administration is searching for bold ways to keep ratings high as asylum-seeking migrants continue to head toward the United States. Last week saw the president cut off hundreds of millions in aid to three Central American nations. This week could see him close the U.S.-Mexico border entirely, a move that would do little more than devastate the economy.
Trump first threatened to do so on Friday before continuing to escalate tension on Twitter over the weekend. On Sunday night, he attacked Democrats for “allowing a ridiculous asylum system and major loopholes to remain as a mainstay of our immigration system,” while bashing Mexico for “doing NOTHING.” He also warned that the United States could take a harder line toward those seeking asylum. “Homeland Security is being sooo very nice, but not for long!”
The Democrats are allowing a ridiculous asylum system and major loopholes to remain as a mainstay of our immigration system. Mexico is likewise doing NOTHING, a very bad combination for our Country. Homeland Security is being sooo very nice, but not for long!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 31, 2019
He was back at it again Monday morning.
Democrats, working with Republicans in Congress, can fix the Asylum and other loopholes quickly. We have a major National Emergency at our Border. GET IT DONE NOW!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 1, 2019
After threatening to close the border on Friday, Trump announced that the United States will be cutting $500 million in aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador as a way to punish these countries for not preventing their citizens from fleeing to the U.S. border. “We were paying them tremendous amounts of money,” the president told reporters in Florida. “We’re not paying them anymore, because they haven’t done a thing for us.”
The move makes little sense. Northern Triangle nations are not actively sending their citizens to the U.S. border, as Trump seems to believe, and stripping them of aid would bring an end to several programs designed to keep Guatemalas, Hondurans and El Savladorians at home. Trump Trump has threatened to do this in the past, but this time it’s for real. Later on Friday, the State Department issued a statement confirming the action. “We are carrying out the president’s direction and ending FY 2017 and FY 2018 foreign assistance programs for the Northern Triangle,” it read. “We will be engaging Congress as part of this process.”
"Mexico could stop it so easily," Trump said of "big caravans" he claimed are now coming from Central America.
He said he stopped foreign aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador because "they set up these caravans" and threatened to close the border "for a long time" pic.twitter.com/UqxcBSgOwM
— POLITICO (@politico) March 29, 2019
Trump also threatened to close the border entirely, as he did in December while seeking nearly $6 billion in funding for a border wall. “If Mexico doesn’t immediately stop ALL illegal immigration coming into the United States throug our Southern Border, I will be CLOSING the Border, or large sections of the Border, next week,” he tweeted on Friday. “This would be so easy for Mexico to do, but they just take our money and ‘talk.’ Besides, we lose so much money with them, especially when you add in drug trafficking etc.), that the Border closing would be a good thing!”
Again, this does not appear to be an empty threat, as it has been in the past. On Sunday, Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told ABC it would take “something dramatic” for the president not to close the border this week. “Why are we talking about closing the border?” he said. “Not for spite and not to try to undo what is happening, but simply because we need the people from the ports of entry to go out in the desert and patrol where we don’t have any wall.”
NEW: Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney tells @jonkarl it would take "something dramatic" for President Trump not to close the U.S.-Mexico border https://t.co/YVBZRQOXxw #ThisWeek pic.twitter.com/yiOf6uy4vD
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 31, 2019
As with cutting off aid to the Northern Triangle, closing the border would do far more harm than good. Mexico is the United States’ third-largest trading partner and shutting down the border would devastate the supply chain of countless goods Americans use daily, from automobiles to avocados. It’s also unclear how this would dissuade migrants from crossing into the United States. Once they do so, they are legally allowed to ask for asylum protection, regardless of how many agents are patrolling the border.
Though a border closure seems imminent, the Washington Post reports that administration officials have not received any details or instructions about how to carry out the action, nor has U.S. Customs and Border Protection or the Pentagon.