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Trump threatens partial shutdown over border wall funding

U.S. President Donald Trump said he would "totally be willing" to shut down the federal government unless Congress authorized $5 billion to fund his long-promised border wall along the U.S. southern border with Mexico, according to a Politico interview.

New threat comes as study suggests overstays greater than irregular crossings

Donald Trump is again making threats if he doesn't get desired funding for a border wall near Mexico, but it remains to be seen if he has the same leverage with Democrats poised to take control of the House in January. (Alex Brandon/Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump said he would "totally be willing" to shut down the federal government unless Congress authorized $5 billion to fund his long-promised border wall along the U.S. southern border with Mexico, according to a Politico interview released on Wednesday.

Speaking to the news website at the White House on Tuesday, Trump also said the $5-billion US request was just to build the physical barrier and additional funding would be needed for border security.

U.S. lawmakers must act to pass a spending bill by Dec. 7 to fund some government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the border and immigration.

Trump has previously threatened to shut down the U.S. government over the border wall funding. His comments to Politico and the Post came amid a White House meeting on Tuesday with House Republicans, who control the chamber until Democrats take over in January. The Republicans will maintain control of the Senate.

Unauthorized immigration falling: Pew

The potential fight comes as a new study published on Tuesday estimates the population of unauthorized immigrants in the United States fell to 10.7 million in 2016, its lowest level since 2004, due largely to a decline in the number of people coming from Mexico.

The report from the Pew Research Center was based on U.S. census data and other figures from 2016, and showed the number of illegal immigrants in the United States has declined steadily since its peak of 12.2 million in 2007.

Researchers believe part of the reason for the decline was the economic recession that gripped the United States in 2007 and the slow recovery that followed, which limited work opportunities for migrants.

"The combination of economic forces and enforcement priorities may be working together to discourage people from arriving, or sending them home," said D'Vera Cohn, one of the authors of the Pew Research Center report.

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, make their way to the border fence between Mexico and the U.S. on Nov. 25. Trump has repeatedly characterized the caravan as a threat to the U.S. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Trump made immigration the signature issue of his campaign rallies on behalf of Republican candidates in the recent midterm elections, instead of a healthy economy. He has expressed alarm at the caravans of migrants who have travelled from Central America to the border in the spring and autumn, authorizing the deployment of National Guard and U.S. military troops to support southern border enforcement efforts.

He chose that strategy despite widespread criticism from human rights activists and foreign governments over the administration's push earlier this year to separate children from parents or guardians who crossed between ports of entry to declare asylum.

The administration justified the separation on the grounds the adult had committed an illegal act — albeit a misdemeanour under current U.S. law — but there were soon reports of questionable conditions at detention centres, a lack of rigour in tracking who had been separated, and deportations that had occurred without due process.

Trump signed an executive order to officially reverse the separations.

Increase in Central Americans, Asians

In terms of the demographic profile of unauthorized migrants, even before Trump took office there had been a decline in the number of illegal immigrants from Mexico.

While Mexico is still the country of origin for about half the unauthorized immigrants in the United States, their number in that total population fell by 1.5 million between 2007 and 2016, the Pew report found. Thousands of Mexicans who made it the U.S. returned to their native country this century, motivated by factors like family reunification and improved job prospects in some sectors of the Mexican economy.

Julisa, 6, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, plays with a ball inside a temporary shelter in Tijuana on Monday. Central Americans have made up an increasing share of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., according to a new Pew Research study. (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

The number of unauthorized immigrants from Central America, meanwhile, increased by 375,000. El Salvador and Honduras, where gang violence is widespread, rank near the bottom of international homicide rates.

Trump has sought to portray the caravan as infiltrated by bands of criminals, but the administration moved to severely cut aid funding to those hard-hit countries, before members of Congress restored funding to levels comparable to the Barack Obama administration.

With the share of Mexicans decreasing, Asians account for 22 percent of unauthorized immigrants who recently arrived in the United States, the report found.

Among recent arrivals, immigrants in the United States who overstayed a visa were likely to outnumber people who illegally crossed the border, the Pew Study said, though the study's authors said there wasn't enough long-term data to say if it was a growing trend.

Unlike the composition of those who cross illegally, citing Homeland Security's own data, the study said recent statistics indicate that those who overstay their visas are overwhelmingly from other countries.

"In contrast to border apprehensions, where 95 per cent or more of immigrants are from Mexico and Central America, the vast majority of overstays — almost 90 per cent — are from elsewhere," according to the study.

Canada, in fact, ranks far ahead of other countries in terms of visa overstays, according to the limited data, while as a continent Europe does.

Trump rejected border wall funding plan

Overall, the Pew study was in line with previous research that has found many unauthorized immigrants have been living in the United States for years and their children are more likely to have been born in the country than abroad.

Among the 10.7 million unauthorized immigrants, two-thirds of adults have lived in the United States for more than a decade, the Pew Research Center study found. Five million U.S.-born children with American citizenship are said to be living with parents or relatives who are unauthorized.

The U.S. has failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform over several years, including during presidencies and sessions of Congress controlled by both Republicans and Democrats.

After attempts at legislation failed, Obama signed by executive order in 2012 the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to shield children born in the U.S. to those who crossed illegally from deportation. It has been estimated that around 800,000 of the so-called Dreamer children qualify for DACA protection.

Trump has sought to blame the Democrats for inaction in the past two years, accusing them of being in favour of "open borders," but both Texas Republican John Cornyn and Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin confirmed early in 2018 the White House could have signed off on a bill with bipartisan support that would have provided $25 billion US for the wall and other border security measures, spread over several years, in a plan that would also provide a pathway to citizenship to the Dreamers.

Negotiations bogged down. Three separate comprehensive immigration bills failed to pass, with the one Trump and the administration were most enthusiastic about receiving just 39 votes, by far the fewest.

Trump soon after made a move to end DACA protections, despite the fact that at various times during his time as president and earlier he expressed generalized support for finding a way to keep Dreamers in the country.

Most recently, the administration has made efforts to encourage the incoming Mexican administration of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to house migrants who apply for asylum in the U.S., and to deny the opportunity to claim asylum for those who cross between border points.

As with the DACA push, and before that, Trump's so-called travel ban for members of certain Muslim-majority countries, the bid to deny asylum on those grounds has been challenged in court and led to injunctions.

Trump has also expressed interest in ending so-called birth tourism, seeing it as a form of illegal immigration. Trump said it was "ridiculous" that "[a] baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years with all of those benefits" despite being born to non-residents on American soil."

Britain and Australia in the 1980s modified laws to require a parent to be a citizen or permanent resident in order for a newborn to qualify for citizenship. There has been some championing of similar legislation recently in Canada.

With files from CBC News

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