Threatening drastic action against Mexico, President Donald Trump declared Friday he is likely to shut down America's southern border next week unless Mexican authorities immediately halt all illegal immigration.
Such a severe move could hit the economies of both countries, but the president emphasized, "I am not kidding around." "It could mean all trade" with Mexico, Trump said when questioned by reporters in Florida.
"We will close it for a long time."
Trump has been promising for more than two years to build a long, impenetrable wall along the border to stop illegal immigration, though Congress has been reluctant to provide the money he needs. In the meantime, he has repeatedly threatened to close the border, but this time, with a new surge of migrants heading north , he gave a definite timetable.
A substantial closure could have an especially heavy impact on cross-border communities from San Diego to South Texas, as well as supermarkets that sell Mexican produce, factories that rely on imported parts, and other businesses across the U.S.
The US and Mexico trade about $1.7 billion in goods daily, according to the US Chamber of Commerce, which said closing the border would be "an unmitigated economic debacle" that would threaten 5 million American jobs.
Trump tweeted Friday morning, "If Mexico doesn't immediately stop ALL illegal immigration coming into the United States through our Southern Border, I will be CLOSING the Border, or large sections of the Border, next week."
In Florida, he didn't qualify his threat with "or large sections," stating: "There is a very good likelihood I'll be closing the border next week, and that is just fine with me."
He said several times that it would be "so easy" for Mexican authorities to stop immigrants passing through their country and trying to enter the US illegally, "but they just take our money and 'talk.'"
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen suggested Trump was referring to the ongoing surge of mostly Central American families heading north through Mexico. Many people who cross the border illegally ultimately request asylum under US law, which does not require asylum seekers to enter at an official crossing.
Short of a widespread shutdown, Nielsen said the U.S. might close designated ports of entry to re-deploy staff to help process parents and children. Ports of entry are official crossing points that are used by residents and commercial vehicles.
"If we have to close ports to take care of all of the numbers who are coming, we will do that," Nielsen said. "So it's on the table, but what we're doing is a very structured process based on operational needs." The White House did not immediately respond to questions about whether Trump's possible action would apply to air travel.
Trump's latest declaration came after Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said his country was doing its part to fight migrant smuggling. Criminal networks charge thousands of dollars a person to move migrants through Mexico, increasingly in large groups toward remote sections of the border.