U.S. President Donald Trump pressed Congress again Monday to approve the controversial construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to thwart illegal immigration.
"Border security is national security," he told a White House news conference after meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, another Western leader who has adopted a hard-line immigration posture. "Strong nations must have strong borders."
Trump called the United States "the laughingstock of the world, with the worst immigration laws anywhere in the world."
Expanding on the immigration comments he posted on Twitter the day before, Trump said he would have "no problem doing a shutdown" of U.S. government operations at the end of September when current funding expires if he does not win approval for the wall, a key pledge of his during the 2016 presidential campaign.
But when asked whether he wants approval of full $25 billion funding for the wall, as well as other tougher immigration changes he has demanded in order to avert a shutdown, he replied, "I always leave room for negotiation."
In addition to the wall, Trump has called for ending a visa lottery allowing migrants from overseas to move to the United States.Instead, he wants a "merit" system in which job skills and education of the migrants play an important role in whether they are allowed into the country.
"We have laws that don't work," Trump said. "We have to end these horrible 'catch and release' principles where you catch somebody, you take their name and you release them. You don't even know who they are. The whole thing is ridiculous."
Trump praised Conte for demanding that other European countries share the responsibility for handling the thousands of migrants who have descended on Italian shores as they escaped Africa and headed across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
Trump's bid for funding a border wall in late September is uncertain.
In recent weeks, the House of Representatives already defeated two immigration proposals Trump supported. Any new action in late September would seem unlikely, coming about five weeks before nationwide congressional elections, a time when most lawmakers are unwilling to debate and vote on controversial issues like immigration.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing Thursday on the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy for families who illegally crossed into the United States from Mexico.Those who did were automatically detained and children were detained separately from their parents.
Trump signed an executive order rescinding the family separations after a nationwide outcry, including from many fellow Republicans.A federal judge in San Diego gave officials two deadlines to reunite children, and last week credited the government for reunifying more than 1,800 children while also saying it is at fault for deporting the parents of more than 400 kids without reuniting those families.
Trump used a Twitter post Monday night to celebrate the reunifications that have taken place while making no mention of the families that remain separated.
"A highly respected Federal judge today stated that the “Trump Administration gets great credit” for reuniting illegal families," he said."Thank you, and please look at the previous administrations record - not good!"
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw has ordered both the government and the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the parents, to give written updates on the families that are still separated each Thursday.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is also asking the inspectors general of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate allegations of physical and sexual abuse of immigrants by guards and other staff members at detention facilities.
The top Republican on the committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley, and the top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, issued a joint letter saying there should be a thorough probe of the procedures for hiring, training and vetting guards and other workers.
Many of the allegations detailed in media reports in recent weeks date back to 2014 and include facilities in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Virginia.
"These allegations of abuse are extremely disturbing and must be addressed," Grassley and Feinstein wrote."This is not a partisan issue as reporting suggests many have been occurring for years.Immigrant families and children kept in federal custody deserve to be treated with basic human dignity and respect and should never be subjected to these forms of abuse."