Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told ABC News on Sunday morning that President Trump will shut down the entire Mexican border this week unless “something dramatic” happens — a move that would shut down over a billion dollars in lawful commerce every single day.
NEW: Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney tells @jonkarl it would take "something dramatic" for President Trump not to close the U.S.-Mexico border https://t.co/YVBZRQOXxw #ThisWeek pic.twitter.com/yiOf6uy4vD
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 31, 2019
Trump’s threat arises from a spike in migrants, many of them children, who are fleeing violence in their home nations of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Most of the Central American refugees who reach our border seek asylum in the United States, something they are permitted to do by law.
The White House largely responded to this influx of migrants through a combination of fear mongering and often-illegal attempts to make our immigration and foreign policy crueler.
Immediately before the 2018 congressional elections, for example, Trump sent 5,000 members of the U.S. military to the Mexican border in an apparent attempt to excite his anti-immigrant base into going to the polls.
The Trump administration also tried to make asylum “unavailable to any alien who seeks refuge in the United States if she entered the country from Mexico outside a lawful port of entry” — an unlawful move because federal law requires the United States to take asylum applications from any foreign national who is “physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States whether or not at a designated port of arrival.”
A federal appeals court halted Trump’s illegal changes to American asylum policy, and the Supreme Court rejected the administration’s request to reinstate the asylum ban.
Trump also announced on Friday that he plans to cut off about $700 million in aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — although it is unclear that he has the power to do so without an act of Congress. This latest move is widely derided by immigration advocates who note that a primary purpose of this aid is to help stabilize the three Central American nations so that their residents do not need to seek asylum elsewhere.
Should Trump move forward with his threat to close the Mexican border, he would disrupt billions of dollars worth of lawful commerce while potentially doing little to stem the tide of asylum seekers. As Vox’s Dara Lind writes, Central American migrants “can’t be physically prevented from entering the US” — many of them enter in remote locations or by crossing under border fences. And once they are on U.S. soil, they have a right to claim asylum.
What Trump could potentially do, however, is close lawful ports of entry between the United States and Mexico. According to Lind, that would mean shutting down about $1.5 billion worth of commerce every day, and it would “disrupt the lives of border communities that rely on the flow of people between the US and Mexico — including the major cities of San Diego (and Tijuana) and El Paso (and Ciudad Juarez).”