President Donald Trump demanded Monday that Congress pass new border legislation using the “Nuclear Option if necessary” to muscle it through the Senate — a drastic change in rules the Republican leader has previously dismissed.
Trump tweeted that the U.S. must build a border wall, but argued that “Democrats want No Borders, hence drugs and crime!” He also said that a deal to help “Dreamer” immigrants is “dead because the Democrats didn’t care or act.”
Trump has previously called for the “nuclear option” — changing Senate rules to end the filibuster. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has dismissed that option in the past, saying Republicans will welcome the filibuster if they return to being the Senate minority.
The White House did not immediately answer questions about Trump’s tweets. The $1.3 trillion funding package Congress passed last month included $1.6 billion in border wall spending. But much of that money can only be used to repair existing segments, not build new sections. Congress also put restrictions on the types of barriers that can be built.
Trump began tweeting over the weekend on immigration from Florida, threatening to pull out of a free trade agreement with Mexico unless it does more to stop people from crossing into the U.S. He claimed they’re coming to take advantage of protections granted certain immigrants.
He said Mexico must “stop the big drug and people flows, or I will stop their cash cow, NAFTA. NEED WALL!” The U.S., Canada and Mexico are participating in tense negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement at Trump’s insistence. Trump says NAFTA is bad for the U.S.
“Mexico has got to help us at the border,” Trump, holding his wife’s hand, told reporters before the couple attended Easter services at an Episcopal church near his Palm Beach, Florida home.
Former President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to provide temporary protection and work permits to hundreds of thousands of immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally after being brought here as children. Trump ended the program last year, but gave Congress six months to pass legislation enshrining it. A deal has so far proved elusive and Trump has blamed Democrats.
It was not immediately clear what Trump was referring to when he said people are coming to take advantage of the program. The Department of Homeland Security is not issuing new permits, though existing ones can be renewed. The Obama administration allowed signups during a set period of time, and the program is closed to new entrants.
Proposed DACA deals crafted by lawmakers and rejected by Trump also were not open to new participants.
Trump did not explain what he meant when questioned by reporters as he entered the Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea with the first lady and his daughter Tiffany. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.
Trump, when addressing reporters briefly before entering the church, again blamed Democrats for failing to protect the “Dreamers.”
“They had a great chance. The Democrats blew it. They had a great, great chance, but we’ll have to take a look because Mexico has got to help us at the border. They flow right through Mexico. They send them into the United States. It can’t happen that way anymore.”
“The Democrats have really let them down,” he added during the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, adding: “It’s a shame.”
Trump promised during the 2016 presidential campaign to build a Southern border wall to stop illegal immigration and drugs from Mexico, but Congress has frustrated him by not moving as quickly as he wants to provide money for construction.
The president also complained on Twitter that border patrol agents can’t do their jobs properly because of “ridiculous liberal (Democrat) laws” that allow people caught for being in the country illegally to be released while they await a hearing before a federal immigration judge.
Trump tweeted that the situation is “Getting more dangerous” and “Caravans” are coming.
The president’s tweets came after Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” reported early Sunday on what it said is a group of 1,200 immigrants, mostly from Honduras, headed to the U.S.
About 1,100 migrants, many from Honduras, have been marching in a caravan along roadsides and train tracks in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca.
These “Stations of the Cross” migrant caravans have been held in southern Mexico for at least the last five years. They began as short processions of migrants, some dressed in biblical garb and carrying crosses, as an Easter-season protest against the kidnappings, extortion, beatings and killings suffered by many Central American migrants as they cross Mexico.
Individuals in the caravans often try to reach the U.S. border, but usually not as part of the caravan. The caravans usually don’t proceed much farther north than the Gulf coast state of Veracruz. The current march is scheduled to end this month with a conference on migration issues in the central Mexican state of Puebla, east of Mexico City.
The Fox headline was “Caravan of illegal immigrants headed to U.S.” The president is known to watch the cable TV program in the morning.
Brandon Judd, leader of the union representing border patrol agents, predicted on “Fox & Friends” that those in the caravan would create havoc and chaos in the U.S. as they wait for what he described as immigration reform. Judd also said Congress needs to pass tougher laws, an idea Trump appeared to echo, and create more bed space for immigration authorities to house people.
Mexico routinely stops and deports undocumented Central Americans, sometimes in numbers that rival those of the United States. Deportations of foreigners dropped from 176,726 in 2015 to 76,433 in 2017, in part because fewer were believed to have come to Mexico, and more were requesting asylum in Mexico.
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking in Washington and Mark Stevenson in Mexico City contributed to this report.