Local congressmen push back at Trump’s border closure threat

The North Portico of the White House is seen, Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, in Washington. The partial government shutdown will almost certainly be handed off to a divided government to solve in the new year, as both parties traded blame Friday and President Donald Trump sought to raise the stakes in the weeklong impasse. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Amid the partial federal government shutdown, President Donald Trump tweeted an ultimatum Friday morning directed at Congress: Fund his promised border wall or the United States-Mexico border will “close.”

“Either we build (finish) the Wall or we close the Border …” one of Trump’s four tweets about the border said in part.

The president’s series of tweets about the border riled up Rio Grande Valley congressmen, who quickly fired back, both on the president’s preferred social media platform and in a prepared statement.

U.S. Rep Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville

“The shutdown is a crisis of the president’s own making,” U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, said in a tweet. “To suggest that the appropriate response to his own crisis to shut down operations at our nation’s border and cut off humanitarian aid to Central America is grossly foolish.”

If he doesn’t secure enough votes to fund the wall, one of his major 2016 campaign promises, Trump also threatened to cut off aid to countries fled by asylum seekers, tweeting, “Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are doing nothing for the United States but taking our money.”

In 2017, the U.S. spent about $257.3 million in Guatemala alone, with $30 million directed toward a counter-drug program headed by the U.S. Secretary of Defense, according to the United States Agency for International Development. That year, the U.S. directed $181 million to Honduras and $118.2 million to El Salvador.

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-McAllen)

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, responded to the president’s tweets via a prepared statement and did not address the threat to cut off aid to Central American countries. He instead pushed back on threats directed at the border.

“No, Mr. President, you cannot shut down the Southwest Border as a bargaining chip for your useless border wall proposal,” the statement read. “The American people need to understand that this action would have vast, terrible implications for American consumers and businesses.”

Last month, surveyors were spotted near the National Butterfly Center in Mission, weeks after the federal government awarded contracts to companies scheduled to build portions of the wall beginning in February, The Monitor previously reported.

Democrats, who Trump called “obstructionist” in one of Friday’s tweets, take control of the House beginning Thursday and have signaled they are unwilling to fund more wall. Since assuming office in January 2017, the president has had a Republican-controlled congress.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo

“We can secure our border in a sensible, cost-effective manner, that does not include an antiquated border wall,” U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, a member of the House appropriations committee, said in an emailed statement last week.

The House on Dec. 21 approved a spending bill that included $5.7 billion for border wall construction. A spending bill passed by the Senate two days prior, however, did not include funding for the president’s wall, leading to a deadlock and the partial government shutdown.

Though Trump omitted details about what his version of shutting down the border would look like and whether he would be willing to go as far as closing ports of entry, such as international bridges in Progreso, Pharr, Hidalgo, Mission and Donna, a Washington Post analysis of a border closure found there’s “very little he can do to shut down the border that would stand up legally.”

Trump, in a tweet, suggested the country “go back to pre-NAFTA, before so many of our companies and jobs were so foolishly sent to Mexico.”

NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, effective since New Year’s Day in 1994, was designed to increase trade among the U.S., Canada and Mexico. NAFTA, which was negotiated this year, is set to be replaced in 2019 by the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.

“We must be diplomatic and strategic in securing our borders. We must be diligent in protecting trade relations with our neighbors,” Gonzalez said in the statement. “And the president must exercise the decorum expected from the White House — even from his Twitter account.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.