Trump: US facing ‘crisis of the soul’ at Mexican border

President ramps up demands for wall but stops short of declaring national emergency

In a 10-minute address to his fellow Americans US President Donald Trump warned that the United States faces a security and humanitarian crisis on its southern border, but stopped short of declaring a national emergency. Video: The White House

 

US president Donald Trump has warned that the United States faces a security and humanitarian crisis on its southern border, but stopped short of declaring a national emergency in a widely-anticipated address to the nation.

In a 10-minute address to his fellow Americans carried live by the main US television networks on Tuesday evening, Mr Trump said that America is facing a “crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul” at the Mexican border.

But despite threats in recent days to invoke the National Emergencies Act, Mr Trump refrained from dubbing the so-called immigration crisis at the border a national emergency, a move which would have allowed him to bypass Congress and order the building of a border wall.

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Mr Trump criticised those who have called the wall “immoral”. Instead, he said, “the only thing that is immoral is the politicians who do nothing and continue to allow more innocent people to be so horribly victimised”.

Describing his proposed border wall as a “physical barrier”, he said it will now be “a steel barrier and not a concrete wall”, claiming that this was at the request of Democrats.

“This barrier is absolutely critical to border security. It is also what our professionals at the border want and need.”

He also claimed that the wall would pay for itself, citing savings that the United States will make through the renegotiated Nafta trade deal with Mexico.

Mr Trump described – in gruesome terms – examples of crimes committed by illegal immigrants in America. “Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country, and thousands more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now,” he said.

He also highlighted the impact that the flow of illegal drugs into the country was having on US communities.

“Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 per cent of which floods across from our southern border,” he said. “More Americans will die from drugs this year than were killed in the entire Vietnam War.”

Blaming Democrats for the ongoing government shutdown, which has seen parts of the federal government closed for 18 days, Mr Trump announced that he has invited congressional leaders to the White House for a meeting on Wednesday. “This situation could be solved in a 45-minute meeting,” he said.

Democrats hit back

But the top Democrats in Congress, House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, rejected Mr Trump’s claims in a live address from Capitol Hill directly after Mr Trump’s speech. Standing side by side, the two senior Democrats accused Mr Trump of manufacturing a crisis and gave little indication of how they are prepared to break the political deadlock over funding for the border wall.

The president “must stop holding the American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis, and must reopen the government”, Ms Pelosi said. Mr Schumer accused the president of stoking fear and seeking to divert attention “from the turmoil in his administration”.

“We can secure our border without an expensive, ineffective wall, and we can welcome legal immigrants and refugees without compromising safety and security. The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30ft wall,” the New York Democrat said.

Mr Trump’s speech offered no new insights into how the impasse over the budget may be broken. Much of the content of the speech recycled material previously used by the president in his rallies and tweets.

Mr Trump is due to visit the border area on Thursday. He will also visit Capitol Hill on Wednesday with vice-president Mike Pence to attend a lunch with Republican members of Congress to discuss the shutdown.

Mr Trump’s speech – his first primetime address to the nation – was delivered three days before thousands of federal workers were due to receive paycheques which they now may not receive due to the shutdown. There is also growing concern about the impact of the continuing stand-off on the wider US economy.

In a sign that the administration is taking the concerns of those Americans most affected by the shutdown seriously, earlier on Tuesday the White House said that millions of Americans will continue to receive food stamps in February.

An estimated 39 million low-income people are eligible for the monthly payments, which are distributed by the department of agriculture, a government department affected by the federal shutdown. It follows confirmation that the White House has instructed the Inland Revenue Service (IRS) to issue tax refunds to people in the coming months.