POLITICS
04/05/2019 17:38 EDT | Updated 04/05/2019 18:01 EDT

Trump Remains Defiant On Immigration 'Emergency' At Border As Lawsuits Pile Up

The president spoke at the U.S.-Mexico border the same day that 20 states announced a lawsuit against his emergency declaration for border wall funding.

President Donald Trump doubled down on his claims that there is an immigration “emergency” at the U.S.-Mexico border on Friday, during a visit to the border in Calexico, California.

“This is an absolute emergency,” Trump said, speaking at a U.S. border patrol station in Calexico, where he participated in a roundtable discussion on immigration and border security.

“People want to come in and they shouldn’t be,” the president added. “Gang members and lots of others. We’re getting them out.”

Trump also decried what he called “horrible loopholes” in the immigration system, naming the visa lottery, so-called “chain migration” (a term immigration restrictionists use to describe allowing U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to help their family members immigrate to this country), and declared the nation’s asylum laws to be “totally broken.”

“There is indeed an emergency on our southern border,” he repeated.

Earlier on Friday, California governor Gavin Newsom (D) announced that a coalition of 20 states was suing to challenge Trump’s national emergency declaration to fund a wall on the southern border. The day before, leaders of the House of Representatives also voted to authorize a lawsuit against Trump over his emergency declaration to fund his border wall.

Trumpdeclared a national emergency in mid-February, aiming to divert billions of dollars from the Defense Department and other earmarked government funds to construct a border wall. More than a dozenstates sued later that month, challenging the declaration as unconstitutional.

SAUL LOEB via Getty Images
Trump speaks as Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen (R) looks on during a roundtable on immigration and border security at the US Border Patrol Calexico Station in Calexico, California -- April 5, 2019. 

At the border patrol station, Trump decried the “colossal surge” of migrants entering the country, saying it was “overwhelming our immigration system.”

He was apparently making reference to February figures from Customs and Border Patrol showing the number of migrant families apprehended at the border had risen to a high point for the last decade.  

“This is our new statement: the system is full. We can’t take you anymore, whether it’s asylum, whether it’s anything you want, it’s illegal immigration,” Trump said. “Can’t take you anymore, sorry, can’t happen, so turn around, that’s the way it is.”

The president decried the “drugs, human trafficking” coming through the border, falsely stating these “come in the areas of the border where you don’t have the wall.”  

“They don’t come through the ports of entry,” he said ― a statement that is not borne out by fact.

The vast majority of illegal drugs seized at the border last year was at legal crossing points, according to Customs and Border Protection statistics ― including about 90 percent of heroin, 88 percent of cocaine, 87 percent of methamphetamine and 80 percent of fentanyl seized in 2018.

Border experts told USA Today those figures reflect not only the drugs caught but also how cartels smuggle illegal substances into the country generally.

Later Friday, Trump was visiting what he has called “the new wall” in Calexico. While a new stretch of steel fencing was constructed last year, it was replacing already-existing fencing there for decades, and plans for this rebuild actually started under President Barack Obama. The steel posts installed last year were part of an improvement project identified by Border Patrol in 2009 ― though funding for the upgrade was allocated in 2017, during Trump’s first year in office.  

On Thursday, Trump walked back a threat he made last week to shut down the U.S.-Mexico border, saying instead he would possibly impose new tariffs in a year “if the drugs don’t stop or largely stop,” and possibly a border closure after that if there’s still no change.

TheTrump administration has a long record of anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric, and has already broadened its crackdown on illegal immigration, making all undocumented immigrants in the U.S. ―not just those with criminal histories ― targets for deportation.

The Trump administration has also made it significantly more difficult for asylum-seekers to ask for help at ports of entry by accepting only relatively small numbers per day, and implemented a “Remain in Mexico” policy that returns some asylum-seekers to the country to await legal proceedings. The administration’s policieshave driven migrants to risk crossing the border illegally instead, according to experts.