Trump Threatens to Shut Down Southern Border Over Wall Funding

December 28, 2018 Updated: December 28, 2018

President Donald Trump said he will close the southern border if Congress doesn’t approve funding for border wall and deliver immigration reform. He also reiterated that his administration will cut off aid to several Central American countries that, Trump said, have done little to stop their citizens from coming to the U.S. illegally.

“We will be forced to close the Southern Border entirely if the Obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the Wall & also change the ridiculous immigration laws that our Country is saddled with,” the president wrote in the first of a Dec. 28 battery of tweets. “Hard to believe there was a Congress & President who would approve!”

Congress has failed to deliver on Trump’s request for $5 billion for border wall construction. While the Republican-led House of Representatives approved the funds as part of a government funding bill, the GOP lacks a sufficient majority in the Senate, where Democrats blocked it.

In absence of the funding bill, about a quarter of the federal government ran out of money and shut down on Dec. 22.

The minority leaders, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Dec. 24 the administration wasn’t clear in negotiations on what it would be willing to accept.

The White House said the Democrats were provided with a proposal, but haven’t responded.

Trump appears to have upped the ante, introducing closure of the border as another piece on the chessboard.

About 800,000 government workers received their last paycheck on Dec. 28, according to Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting White House Chief of Staff. The next paycheck is due on Jan. 11 and would be affected by the shutdown, he said.

Democrats plan to reintroduce a funding bill in the House after they gain control of the chamber in January. There’s no indication the bill would include funds for the wall construction.

Democrats have called the wall project ineffective and wasteful, despite previously backing construction of 700 miles of border fencing as part of a 2013 bill that also included a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Trump asked for 500 to 550 miles of a wall or steel slats fence, saying other parts of the border already have natural barriers, such as mountains.

Border Patrol officials have repeatedly called for a wall in certain areas.

Border Shutdown

Shutting down the border would prevent companies from moving goods across, hurting business on both sides. Mexico, however, would hurt more since it runs a trade surplus with the U.S.

“The United States looses [sic] soooo much money on Trade with Mexico under NAFTA, over 75 Billion Dollars a year (not including Drug Money which would be many times that amount), that I would consider closing the Southern Border a ‘profit making operation,’” Trump wrote in another tweet.

The top Mexican export to the U.S. are vehicles (worth $84 billion in 2017). Trump has long lamented the shipping jobs abroad by companies, urging carmakers in particular to expand domestic production instead. The risk of Trump closing the border is yet another factor the companies need to consider when making that decision.

“We build a Wall or close the Southern Border. Bring our car industry back into the United States where it belongs,” Trump wrote on Twitter, adding a jab at the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he denounced as a bad deal for the U.S. and which he recently renegotiated.

“Go back to pre-NAFTA, before so many of our companies and jobs were so foolishly sent to Mexico,” he said. “Either we build (finish) the Wall or we close the Border.”

Aid Shutdown

Trump then put a spotlight on the three Central American nations that have been the largest source of illegal immigration to the U.S. in recent years, including the migrant caravans highly covered by the media in recent months.

“Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are doing nothing for the United States but taking our money,” Trump wrote in a tweet. “Word is that a new Caravan is forming in Honduras and they are doing nothing about it. We will be cutting off all aid to these 3 countries—taking advantage of U.S. for years!”

About a million citizens of the three countries have been caught by Border Patrol between 2013 and 2017 (pdf) trying to enter illegally. The United States gave the countries nearly $2.3 billion in aid in those years.

The Central American border crossers commonly surrender themselves to the Border Patrol and then request asylum, but less than one in 10 is ultimately found eligible for asylum by an immigration judge, according to the Justice Department.

A new migrant caravan with an estimated 15,000 people is set to leave Honduras in mid-January, but migrants will attempt to stay in Mexico instead of heading to the United States, some Spanish-language media and groups have reported.

Trump already said on Oct. 22 that Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador will have their U.S. aid reduced or stopped because they “were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S.”

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab