Trump Calls Off Plan to Close the Border
By Jim Owen
President Trump, after vowing to close the southern border of the United States, now says the action is not necessary – at least for the time being.
The president explained that he changed his position on the issue because Mexico had promised to be more aggressive in stopping undocumented immigrants from passing through their country on the way north. Mexican President Andres Lopez Obrador proclaimed that he would “act with prudence” to comply with Trump’s demands.
In a speech during a meeting of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Trump claimed that Mexico had arrested and deported more than 1,000 people since he issued his threat to shut down ports of entry.
Just hours earlier, the president indicated that he was about to close all or “large sections” of the border. He cited a recent increase in illegal migrants, and called on Congress to enact tougher laws.
The threatened closure was Trump’s latest effort to make good on his campaign pledge to stop illegal immigration. Throughout the 2016 campaign, and ever since, he has warned that there is a “crisis” that must be addressed.
Reasons to Close the Border
The president’s initial statement. was that he would end the trading of goods and the passage of individuals across the national boundary for a “long time.” He argued that not enough jail cells were available to hold all the asylum seekers being apprehended by immigration officers. He warned that two more “caravans” of migrants were headed for the United States.
Trump blasted lawmakers for refusing to change immigration laws, which he described as “weak” and “pathetic.” The president chided Congress, insisting that legislation dealing with the matter should take less than one hour to approve. He accused Democrats of remaining firm in their opposition to stricter regulations because of political considerations and their desire to block the administration’s agenda.
Trump told reporters at the White House that one of his priorities is to end chain migration, a term referring to family members traveling to the United States to join those already in the country. The president slammed the visa lottery, a program also known as the green card lottery that features an annual drawing to determine who is admitted to the United States.
Trump went on to criticize the “catch-and-release” policy, in which some migrants are released within the United States while they await court hearings on their applications for asylum. In addition, the president suggested that he wanted to replace federal judges who do not agree with his beliefs.
Trump said Mexico could solve the problem by preventing foreigners from entering that country from the south. But he expressed doubt that the Mexican government would make a long-term commitment.
Officials with the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the Customs and Border Protection agency, reported they were struggling to keep up with the flow of migrants. CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan warned that the system had reached a “breaking point.”
He said his agency was being forced to free some detainees from prisons in Arizona and Texas due to overcrowding. McAleenan predicted that statistics for March would show more immigration than in any other month the past 11 years.
The Homeland Security Department has been reassigning officers from ports of entry to help process immigrants who have already crossed. Inspectors at many roadside checkpoints north of the border have been shifted to positions nearer the boundary to catch migrants who enter between ports of entry. Department Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen called the situation a “cascading crisis” that has launched the system into a “free fall.”
Reasons to Not Close the Border
Trump named the caravans as his main rationale to close the border. Others expressed concern that the move would interrupt international commerce.
Robert Perez, a CBP deputy commissioner, acknowledged on CNN that there is $2.3 billion worth of trade at the border every year – involving almost 30 million trucks, railroad cars and cargo containers. He said shutting down the border would have a “severe impact.”
A closure of ports of entry also would affect thousands of people who cross the border every day to work or shop. Cornell University law professor Stephen Yale-Loehr said the United States would be “shooting (itself) in the foot.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell distanced himself from Trump by forecasting a “potentially catastrophic” economic effect. The Kentucky Republican said there is a border crisis, but questioned the wisdom of closing ports of entry.
Legal experts expect multiple lawsuits if Trump eventually follows through with his threat. They pointed out that the president’s attempt to stop immigration from 6 to 8 predominately Muslim nations ran into roadblocks in federal courts. The supreme court eventually upheld the president’s powers to stop immigration for any reason from any country.
Advocates for migrants, including the American Civil Liberties Union, cite the Refugee Act. The measure, which Congress passed in 1980, confirmed the right of foreigners to enter the country and ask for asylum. Judges decide whether the migrants have sufficient cause to think their lives would be in danger if they returned home.
Most of those coming from Latin America are fleeing violence and poverty. Criminal gangs – and, in some cases, law-enforcement officers and government troops – in countries like Venezuela and Honduras are murdering people and driving them out of their homes.
Stephen Legomsky, who teaches law at Washington University, said shutting down the border would “make it impossible” for many to file asylum applications.
Alternatives to Full Closure
USA Today noted. that Trump could take steps that are much less drastic than his idea to completely close the border. He could employ additional personnel to inspect vehicles at ports of entry. But that could significantly slow the progress of delivery truck drivers, as well as tourists and others, trying to cross into the United States.
The lines are already growing, as a result of ramped-up scrutiny at ports of entry. During one recent day, it reportedly took about three hours for a vehicle to get into the country at Brownsville, Texas. In San Diego, Calif., 150 trucks were lined up waiting for inspections.
Trump could shut down only specific traffic lanes at ports of entry, or entirely close some facilities, according to Andrew Arthur, the nation’s chief immigration lawyer under former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Arthur said the actions would pressure Mexican authorities to intercept migrants at that country’s southern border and return them to their homelands. The former government official is now affiliated with the Center for Immigration Studies, which pushes for less legal and illegal immigration.
Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said on CNBC that White House officials were seeking methods of securing the border without impeding delivery trucks.
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History of Border Closings
If the administration halts traffic at ports of entry, it will not be the first time such an event has happened. However, previous closures were much more limited in scope than the plan Trump has envisioned.
Immediately following the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the new administration led by President Lyndon Johnson sealed the international boundary. Thousands of trucks were stranded in Juarez, Mexico, across the border from El Paso, Texas.
President Richard Nixon, just months after entering the Oval Office, enacted Operation Intercept. The program involved more stringent inspections along the border in an effort to confiscate illegal drugs.
President Ronald Reagan also intensified inspections, while shutting down nine ports of entry, in 1985. He said he was reacting to the kidnapping and killing of a Drug Enforcement Agency officer.
Bush, in response to the terrorist airplane attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City and Washington, D.C., ordered the cessation of flights from other countries. The administration, which also stepped up the inspection of ground vehicles, said it was worried that more attacks could be imminent.
In November last year, Trump decided to closethe main border crossing into San Diego for several hours to thwart several hundred people who were trying to get into the United States. Trump said he would close the border for longer periods of time if the situation became “uncontrollable.”
Debate Over Wall Continues, but progress is made
The president maintains that the best way to reduce illegal immigration is to build a wall along the length of the border, which extends more than 2,000 miles through public and private land. Sixteen state attorneys general and a number of private property owners have filed lawsuits against the land seizures that the project would entail. After the failure of congress to pass bills providing funding for the wall, President Trump signed an executive order to provide funds for the construction of the wall.