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.”
In another afternoon appearance, he said, “there’s a very good likelihood” that he’ll close the border next week.
Mexico's new government, under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has actually been a willing partner with the Trump administration on migration issues.
Earlier this year, it allowed the implementation and expansion of a new U.S. policy that forces asylum seekers to wait in Mexico as their cases are processed, in spite of criticism from human rights organizations.
Mexican immigration agents have also worked directly with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to keep asylum seekers off U.S. soil. At several major international bridges, Mexican agents now vet people before they reach the U.S. side of the bridge.
Before he became president, López Obrador was a frequent critic of Trump, even publishing a book, titled “Listen, Trump,” which detailed his anger toward the White House. But he has tempered that critique to a previously unimaginable degree since taking office, in an effort to maintain a positive relationship with Trump.
On Friday, in the wake of Trump’s tweet about the possible border closure, López Obrador reiterated that approach.
“We are going to help, to collaborate. We want to have a good relationship with the government of the United States. We are not going to argue about these issues,” he said at a news conference, in response to a question about Trump’s criticism of Mexican migration policies.
López Obrador has emphasized the idea that, with more development funding, Central Americans could find shelter and jobs in southern Mexico, rather than migrating to the United States. His administration has asked the U.S. government to support that plan. But Trump has offered little in the way of such funding.
Tonatiuh Guillen, the head of Mexico’s immigration agency, at an event on Thursday, said the Mexico was caught in the middle of U.S. immigration policies he described as “bipolar.”
He added, “There are factors of attraction and rejection, and we’re in the sandwich right now.”
Trump’s warning in the afternoon echoed tweets earlier in the day in which the president threatened that he would be “CLOSING the Border, or large sections of the Border,” if the situation did not improve.
Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, responded to Trump on Twitter, writing: “Mexico does not act on the basis of threats. We are a great neighbor.”
Andres Rozental Gutman, the former Mexican undersecretary for foreign relations, said the current Mexican government “wants to take care of the relationship with President Trump for as long as it can. It does not want to aggravate that relationship, and does not want to enter into controversy in the media and with tweets.”
He added: “Is that the correct policy? I do not think so. I think Trump respects strength and not weakness.”
Trump’s comments came two days after the United States’s top border official warned that the U.S. immigration enforcement system along the nation’s southern boundary 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 with children.
Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said that for the first time in more than a decade, his agency is “reluctantly” performing direct releases of migrants, meaning they are not turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they are not detained, they are not given ankle bracelets to track their movements, and they are allowed to leave with just a notice to appear in court at a later date.
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 were to shut down commerce between Mexico and the United States, he would draw the ire of American manufacturers who depend on Mexican-made 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 were imminent. “May close the Southern Border!” he wrote then.
At a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Thursday night, Trump returned to the subject, saying if Mexico does not stop migrants from trying to enter the United States, “we will close the damn border.”
Trump alleged Mexico was stealing the state’s automobile business and told the crowd that if he closes the border, then “it means you’re going to make more cars right here in the good old USA.”
Trump has threatened to close the border before but did not follow through.
In November, in the heat of a battle with Congress over funding for his long-promised border wall, Trump wrote on Twitter “we will close the Border permanently if need be.”
Trump has since declared a national emergency at the border as a way to spend more on barriers than Congress has authorized.
In his tweets Friday, Trump also took aim at Democrats in Congress, saying they “have given us the weakest immigration laws anywhere in the World.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), campaigning for president in Marshalltown, Iowa, said Trump’s threats are “not in line with our values as a country.”
“When a mama picks up her baby and sees violence and death threats the United States listens,” she said. “That’s part of what we do. It’s part of who we are.”
Wagner and Itkowitz reported from Washington. Sieff reported from Mexico City. Gabriela Martinez in Mexico City, Annie Linskey in Marshalltown, Iowa and Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti in Washington contributed to this report.