U.S. President Donald Trump warned Mexico on Tuesday that its free trade agreement with the United States would be jeopardized if it does not stop a caravan of Central American immigrants before it reaches the border with the U.S.
For the third consecutive day, Trump posted anti-immigration Twitter comments, complaining about the stream of 1,100 migrants headed north from Honduras through Mexico toward "our 'Weak Laws' Border."
In a daybreak tweet, he said the caravan of migrants "had better be stopped before its gets there."
The U.S. leader said the "cash cow" North American Free Trade Agreement among the U.S., Mexico and Canada "is in play, as is foreign aid to Honduras and the countries that allow this to happen. Congress MUST ACT NOW!"
Trump administration officials say they are drafting new legislation aimed at closing what they see as immigration "loopholes." The changes would allow for the immediate deportation of children arriving at the U.S. border while traveling alone, rather than allowing them to engage in lengthy deportation hearings before an immigration judge, as is now the case.
The Trump administration also wants to end a two-decade-old court settlement that calls for the U.S. to release migrating children from custody to their parents or other caregivers while they await deportation hearings. Officials say the children often have assimilated into life in the U.S. and fail to show up at their deportation hearings.
Late Monday, Trump tweeted, "As ridiculous as it sounds, the laws of our country do not easily allow us to send those crossing our Southern Border back where they came from. A whole big wasted procedure must take place. Mexico & Canada have tough immigration laws, whereas ours are an Obama joke," referring to his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.
Trump said, "Honduras, Mexico and many other countries that the U.S. is very generous to, sends many of their people to our country through our WEAK IMMIGRATION POLICIES. Caravans are heading here. Must pass tough laws and build the WALL. Democrats allow open borders, drugs and crime!"
The fate of any Trump immigration proposals in Congress would be uncertain at best.
Lawmakers have been deadlocked for years over immigration policies. Most recently, Congress balked at Trump's call for construction of a $20 billion border wall on the U.S.-Mexican line to thwart the entry of more illegal migrants and was unable to reach an agreement with the president over whether to protect as many as 1.8 million young people from deportation, migrants brought illegally into the country years ago by their parents.
The recently approved $1.3-trillion spending measure funding government operations through September included $1.6 billion for border security along the U.S.-Mexican line, but that money can be used only to repair existing segments of barriers, not new sections.
The Mexican government says it is offering refugee status to eligible members of a caravan of migrants from Central American countries heading north through Mexico.
A statement late Monday from the Mexican interior and foreign affairs ministries noted the caravans made up largely of people from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have made similar trips since 2010 calling attention to migrant rights, particularly those fleeing dangerous situations at home in search of protection elsewhere.
"Mexico's migration policy is a sovereign one, through which it seeks to ensure legal, safe and orderly migration with full respect for people's rights," the statement said. "Under no circumstances does the Mexican government promote irregular migration."
The ministries said that due to Mexican law, authorities have sent 400 caravan members back to their home countries.
The caravan of about 1,100 people was organized by Pueblo Sin Fronteras (People without Borders), which on Monday called the asylum processes in the United States and Mexico "punitive and unjust." Two smaller caravans reached the United States last year.
Gina Garibo, a spokesperson for the group, told VOA it is an organization that fights alongside the migrants in order to battle for their rights.
Alex Mensing, one of the group's coordinators, said on Twitter those in the caravan pressured Mexico "into conceding permission to travel to places where they can seek asylum."
Pueblo Sin Fronteras also highlighted the number of Hondurans in the group, saying their presence was the result of political crises in the region "provoked in large part by the policies of the U.S. government."
After Trump's Monday tweets, Mexican Interior Minister Alfonso Navarrete Prida said, "It is absolutely incorrect to say that Mexico is not making an effort" to control illegal migration.
He said Mexico has been following the course of the caravan, but rejected pressure from the United States.
"Of course we will act, let me be clear, in strict compliance with our migration laws, without accepting pressure from any country or anyone," he said.
Cristina Caicedo Smit contributed to this story.