President Donald Trump retreated from a threat to close the U.S. border with Mexico, saying he was still ready to do it but that the the Mexican government had begun stopping migrants from entering the U.S.
“Security is more important to me than trade,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “We’re going to have a strong border or we’re going to have a closed border.”
Trump added: “I’m totally prepared to do it. We’re going to see what happens over the next few days.”
He said that he had cut off U.S. “payments” to Guatemala and Honduras on Monday, Central American countries that are the primary source of what the president says is a migration crisis at the U.S. border.
Trump said in a tweet Friday that he would close the border this week because of a spike in undocumented migrants entering the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it apprehended more than 66,000 people in February, up from about 48,000 in January. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has said apprehensions would approach 100,000 in March.
But the president said in a tweet earlier on Tuesday that the Mexican government “is apprehending large numbers of people at their southern border.” It’s not clear whether Mexico changed any of its immigration practices since Trump most recently said he would close the border.
It’s a threat the president has periodically made, so far without following through. Mexico is the U.S.’s third-largest trading partner, with about $616 billion in commerce annually between the two countries, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Closing the border would cause huge disruption to the U.S. agriculture and automobile industries, among many others.
Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress joined business groups in raising alarm about the economic impact on the U.S. of closing the border.