WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump said on Friday that next week he would close the southern border, or at least large sections of it, if Mexico does not halt illegal immigration into the United States, repeating a threat he has made before but never with a specific timetable.
In a series of tweets and later during an appearance before reporters, Trump did not spell out exactly what a border closing would entail but said it could involve halting "all trade" between the two countries -- a prospect that would have profound ramifications for the U.S. economy.
Trump blamed Mexico for a growing flow of "illegals" entering the United States and cited two large migrant caravans making their way toward the U.S. border.
"If they don't stop them, we're closing the border," Trump said at an event in Florida. "We'll close it. And we'll keep it closed for a long time. I'm not playing games. Mexico has to stop it."
His warning echoed tweets earlier in the day in which Trump threatened that he would be "CLOSING the Border, or large sections of the Border" if the situation did not improve.
A move to close the border would come with numerous complications, including impeding U.S. citizens seeking to reenter the country from Mexico.
Closing off access to foreigners with travel visas would invite the same kind of legal scrutiny as Trump's ban on people coming into the United States from certain Muslim-majority countries.
And if Trump shut down commerce between Mexico and the United States, he would draw the ire of American manufacturers who depend on Mexican goods.
Trump made a similar threat Thursday morning about closing the border, saying Mexico was "all talk and no action," but did not make it sound as though action was imminent. "May close the Southern Border!" he wrote then.
Trump's comments came after Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, warned Wednesday that the U.S. immigration enforcement system on the southern border is at "the breaking point" and said authorities are having to release migrants into the country after background checks because of a crush of asylum-seeking families.
McAleenan said his agency is "reluctantly" performing direct releases of migrants, meaning they are allowed to leave with just a notice to appear in court at a later date.
On Friday, U.S. officials said Immigration and Customs Enforcement is sharply curtailing the number of families it will hold at a detention center outside San Antonio because the agency is unable to transport them there amid an influx of migrant families at the southern border.
Beginning Monday, the immigration agency will temporarily use part of the Karnes County Family Residential Center to detain about 700 adult women, with a smaller portion of the jail reserved for families. Earlier this month, the facility had 528 family members detained, but by Friday that had been reduced to 63 parents and children.
Officials expect the facility to return to exclusively detaining families after about three months.
"The current volume of family units crossing the Southwest border has overwhelmed ICE's limited transportation resources to the point that ICE is currently only able to route a limited number of families apprehended at that border to the one other family residential center in Texas -- the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Tex.," agency spokesman Danielle Bennett said in a statement.
Separately, an autopsy has found that a 7-year-old girl from Guatemala who died while detained by the U.S. Border Patrol had a bacterial infection. The case drew worldwide attention to the plight of migrant families detained at the southern U.S. border.
The El Paso County medical examiner's office released a report Friday of its findings in the death of Jakelin Caal Maquin. Jakelin died Dec. 8, just over a day after she was apprehended by Border Patrol agents with her father.
The report says traces of streptococcus bacteria were found in Jakelin's lungs, adrenal gland, liver and spleen. The autopsy says she faced a "rapidly progressive infection" that led to the failure of multiple organs.
The medical examiner did not determine which form of streptococcus bacteria Jakelin contracted.
Jakelin was one of two children to die in Border Patrol custody in December, raising questions about the agency's medical practices amid the surge in migrant families crossing the southern border.
Information for this article was contributed by John Wagner, Colby Itkowitz, Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti of The Washington Post; and by Nomaan Merchant of The Associated Press.
A Section on 03/30/2019
Print Headline: Trump threatens border closure