Trump says he'll close U.S.-Mexico border next week unless Mexico takes action

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened drastic action against Mexico on Friday by threatening to shut down America's southern border next week unless Mexican authorities immediately halt all illegal immigration. "I am not kidding around," he said.

Mexico's foreign secretary responds: 'Mexico does not act on the basis of threats. We are a great neighbour'

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., on March 28. (Paul Sancya/The Associated Press)

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened drastic action against Mexico on Friday by threatening 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 [stopping] all trade" with Mexico, Trump said when questioned by reporters in Florida. "We will close it for a long time."

Trump has previously threatened to close the border — including at a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Thursday night — but this was different, since he gave a timetable.

The White House did not immediately say whether this would apply to commercial and air travel, but a substantial closure could have an especially large impact on cross-border communities from San Diego to South Texas, as well as supermarkets, factories, and other businesses across the country that rely on trade to and from Mexico.

The U.S. and Mexico trade about $1.7 billion US in goods daily, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which said closing the border would be "an unmitigated economic debacle" that would threaten five million U.S. 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 the phrase "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 U.S. illegally, "but they just take our money and 'talk."'

A senior Homeland Security official on Friday suggested Trump was referring to the ongoing surge of mostly Central American families crossing the border from Mexico. Many people who cross the border illegally ultimately request asylum under U.S. law, which does not require asylum seekers to enter at an official crossing.

Those seeking asylum are not deemed illegal simply by their arrival.

The official 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 used by residents and commercial vehicles. The official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, did not specify which ports the administration was considering closing, saying only that closures were "on the table."

The White House did not immediately respond to questions about whether Trump's possible action would apply to air travel.

Trump's declaration came a day 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 U.S.-Mexico border.

"We are going to do everything we can to help," Lopez Obrador said. "We don't in any way want a confrontation with the U.S. government."

Mexico's foreign affairs secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, responded to Trump Friday in a tweet of his own.

"Mexico does not act on the basis of threats. We are a great neighbour," he tweeted in Spanish. "(Ask) the million and a half Americans who chose our country as their home, the largest community of (Americans) outside the U.S. For them, we are also the best neighbour they could have."

Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the United States have fought over whether there actually is a "crisis" at the border, particularly amid Trump's push for a border wall, which he claims will solve immigration problems.

Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said Thursday the immigration system is cracking under the strain.

Central American migrants, part of the caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, advance on a road in Tapachula, Mexico, on March 28. (Isabel Mateos/The Associated Press)

Customs and Border Protection commissioner Kevin McAleenan said Wednesday that 750 border inspectors would be reassigned to deal with the growing number of migrant families, and the Homeland Security official said Friday that the department was seeking volunteers from other agencies to help.

The president called on Congress to immediately change what he said were weak U.S. immigration laws, which he blamed on Democrats.

Arrests all along the southern border have skyrocketed in recent months. Border agents are on track to make 100,000 arrests and denials of entry there this month, more than half of them families with children.

The Department of Homeland Security wants the authority to detain families for longer, and to deport children more quickly from Central America who arrive at the border on their own. The department argues those policy changes would stop families from trying to enter the U.S.

with files from Reuters