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18 Jan 2019 2:38
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  •   Home > News > International

    Donald Trump tours Mexican border, threatens to declare national emergency over wall impasse

    The US President flies to the Texas border with Mexico to try to bolster his case for a wall, flanked by tearful family members of people killed by illegal immigrants, and by border patrol agents who are not being paid during the shutdown.

    United States President Donald Trump has threatened to use emergency powers to bypass Congress and get billions of dollars to pay for a wall on the Mexico border as a partial US government shutdown over the issue stretched into its 20th day.

    Mr Trump flew to the Texas border with Mexico to try to bolster his case for the wall, flanked by tearful family members of people killed by illegal immigrants, and by border patrol agents who are not receiving pay cheques during the shutdown.

    "If we don't have a barrier, a very substantial barrier of some kind, you're not going to be able to solve this problem," Mr Trump said at a briefing where plastic-wrapped bricks of heroin, seized guns and a plastic bag full of cash were prominently displayed.

    Mr Trump is adamant that a government funding bill to end the shutdown include $US5.7 billion ($7.9 billion) for a border barrier — his signature campaign promise.

    The standoff has left a quarter of the federal government closed down and hundreds of thousands of federal employees without pay.

    A day after he stormed out of a meeting with Democratic leaders aimed at negotiating an end to the funding standoff, Mr Trump attacked them for refusing his demand, calling them harder to deal with than China, a rival power.

    "I find China, frankly, in many ways to be far more honourable than Crying Chuck and Nancy. I really do," Mr Trump said, referring to House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

    Mr Trump signalled he was prepared for the showdown to stretch into late January, cancelling plans to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which is scheduled to start on January 22.

    'His only way out'

    Mr Trump said his lawyers had told him he had the power to invoke national emergency powers to get his wall funded, a course of action that Democrats have said may be illegal.

    "I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency," Mr Trump said at the White House.

    "I'm not prepared to do that yet, but if I have to, I will."

    If Congress fails to bend on the border wall funding, Mr Trump said he probably would declare an emergency.

    "I would almost say definitely," he said.

    The declaration would circumvent Congress's power over the national purse strings, giving Mr Trump the ability to redirect money from the Department of Defence to his proposed wall.

    Such a step likely would prompt an immediate legal challenge over constitutional powers from congressional Democrats.

    A subsequent court fight could be protracted, making room for the shutdown to be ended in the interim. The final outcome would then be left up to judges, not the President and Congress.

    Even some Republicans who want to build a wall have said they do not want money to be taken from the military for it and others see it as an overreach of executive powers.

    Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat who has cultivated good relations with Mr Trump, said a national emergency declaration by Mr Trump would be "wrong" but "I think that's his only way out of the government shutdown impasse".

    If Mr Trump were to make such a declaration, Senator Manchin predicted the Senate would immediately pass legislation to fund the federal agencies that have been partially closed.

    "If he did it tonight, everybody would be right here to vote," Senator Manchin said..

    Statistics don't back up Trump's claims

    Mr Trump said undocumented immigrants and illegal drugs are streaming across the border from Mexico, despite statistics that show illegal immigration there is at a 20-year low and many drug shipments likely are smuggled through legal ports of entry.

    Just across the Rio Grande river from McAllen, in the Mexican city of Reynosa, a dozen recent deportees and US-bound migrants gathered near a cross that memorialised dead migrants.

    Plagued by kidnappings, Reynosa is so dangerous for migrants that locals advise new arrivals against any trip alone out of the two migrant shelters.

    "Building a wall for a country, a nation so big, for a border so immense, so many kilometres, is ridiculous," said Jose Ramon Poso Briseno, a Honduran man who has waited in Reynosa's Senda de Vida shelter for five months but has so far balked at crossing the river out of fear of cartel violence.


    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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