President Donald Trump flew to Texas Thursday to promote his controversial border wall project, pulling out of a major international forum later this month with no end in sight to a row that has partially shut the US government.
Trump used the backdrop of McAllen, Texas, to pursue his message that more barriers on the frontier with Mexico are needed to protect the United States from what he calls a torrent of violent crime committed by illegal immigrants.
"They just go where there's no security and you don't even know the difference between Mexico and the United States," he told a meeting of border patrol officers.
"They have women tied up, they have tape over their mouths, electrical tape."
"If we had a barrier of any kind, a powerful barrier, whether its steel or concrete..., we would stop it cold," Trump said.
Opposition Democrats are refusing to approve USD 5.7 billion in wall funding, saying that overwhelming numbers of illegal immigrants do not commit serious crimes -- and that Trump is promoting the project to satisfy his right-wing base.
Trump's main way of pressuring Congress has been to refuse to sign off on a host of unrelated, normally uncontroversial, government spending until he gets his wall funded.
That has resulted in a partial government shutdown now in its 20th day, with hundreds of thousands of federal employees -- including air traffic controllers, the FBI and Coast Guard -- going without pay.
Signalling he's ready to maintain the game of brinksmanship, Trump tweeted on arrival in Texas that he will scrap a visit to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which runs from January 21-25.
Trump had been expected to make a brief appearance at the influential get-together but said that opposition Democratic "intransigence" required him to stay home.
"If we don't make a deal, I think it would be very surprising to me" not to declare a national emergency, he said. "If I have to, I will. I have no doubt about it."
Analysts say the declaration would likely be challenged in court as a case of presidential overreach, in which case the wall still could face being blocked.
However, it would still give Trump political cover with his base by showing he'd done what he could. At that point, Trump could end the partial government shutdown and declare a win.
Trump, who revels in telling stories about his negotiating skills as a New York real estate magnate, has not managed to get the Democrats to budge on his demand for the USD 5.7 billion.
On Wednesday, he invited Democratic leaders to the White House and began by asking if they would approve the wall in exchange for him ending the government shutdown. When the Democrats said no, he abruptly walked out.
"A total waste of time," Trump tweeted. "I said bye-bye, nothing else works!" Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, told journalists Trump "sort of slammed the table," then "got up and walked out."
"Again, we saw a temper tantrum because he couldn't get his way," Schumer said.
Trump disputed that Thursday, saying "I didn't pound the table. That is a lie. I don't have temper tantrums."
Few on either side of the debate dispute that the border poses a significant challenge, not least because of ruthless Mexican gangs bringing drugs to the huge US market.
Illustrating the danger, Mexican authorities said Thursday they had found 21 bodies after a gang shootout in Miguel Aleman, a town about 170 miles (270 kilometers) across the border from McAllen, Texas.
However, opponents to Trump say he is hyping the danger posed to Americans -- and the help that more walls would bring -- to stir up xenophobia for his own political gains.
"The truth is that a great number...of people entering our country, asking to come in to the country, are not criminals: they are families, children, mothers, who really are asking for protection," said Sister Norma Pimentel, head of the Catholic Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas.
"They're not coming here to hurt us but rather for us to help them." Yanira de Hernandez, a 52-year-old Salvadoran migrant who hopes to get to US soil from Mexico, said he simply dreams of a better life in a country built on immigration.
"Everyone has the right to emigrate, to seek a new future. We're not going to commit any crimes. We hope he (Trump) understands that and that God helps him to change, because his ancestors were migrants too," he said.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)