Donald Trump had a unwelcoming message to those seeking political asylum in the United States: Don’t bother.
“Our country is full,” Trump said at an event in Calexico, Calif., to promote construction of a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. “Our area is full. The sector is full. Can’t take you anymore, I’m sorry. Can’t happen. So turn around, that’s the way it is.”
Trump described his remarks as “our new statement,” and said it applied to asylum seekers as well as immigrants crossing the border illegally.
“If you look at our southern border, the number of people and the amount of drugs, human trafficking — the human trafficking is something that nobody used to talk about, I talk about it. It’s a terrible thing. It’s ancient and it’s never been bigger than it is modern, right now, today. All over the world, by the way, not just here. All over the world, human trafficking, a terrible thing.”
According to figures provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials the number of people arrested for illegally crossing the border rose from 47,986 in January to 66,450 in February. Families, many traveling from Central American countries, made up more than half of those numbers, CBP said.
While arrests of criminal aliens have continued to fall the past two years, Trump assured his audience that “there is indeed an emergency on our southern border.”
“It’s a colossal surge,” Trump said of the migrant caravans from Central America, “and it’s overwhelming our immigration system. We can’t take you anymore.”
Specifically, Trump singled out those seeking asylum, saying that a large number of them were gang members.
“It’s a scam. It’s a hoax,” Trump said. “I know about hoaxes. I just went through a hoax,” which is how he refers to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of his campaign’s ties to the Russian government.
At the same time, Trump proclaimed that Mexico “has been absolutely terrific for the last four days,” arresting “thousands” of Central American migrants before they could reach the U.S. border. But then the president issued another warning.
“If for any reason Mexico stops apprehending and bringing the illegals back to where they came from, the U.S. will be forced to tariff at 25 percent all cars made in Mexico and shipped over the border to us. If that doesn’t work, I will close the border,” Trump vowed.
Trump had backed off from that threat earlier in the week after lawmakers from both parties threw cold water on the idea.
“Closing down the border would have potentially catastrophic economic impact on our country, and I would hope we would not be doing that,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned.
As for the country being “full,” the United States, with a population density of 35 people per square kilometer, ranks 175th of 240 countries, between Venezuela and Kyrgyzstan.
Trump’s rolling up the welcome mat for immigrants stands in opposition to the long-standing American tradition of welcoming immigrants summed up by the lines in Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus,” inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
In February, Trump painted a very different picture regarding the country’s need for new immigrants.
“I need people coming in because we need people to run the factories and plants and companies that are moving back in,” Trump told reporters in February. “We need people.”