“I never changed my mind at all,” Trump said in response to a question from ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl as he left for the trip Friday morning. “I may shut it down at some point but I would rather do tariffs.”
For a week, the president had repeatedly warned of a potential imminent closure of the border, resulting in an outcry from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who warned of dire economic consequences from disrupted commerce and travel.
White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on Sunday said on ABC News' "This Week" that it would take "something dramatic" for Trump to back down on his threat.
But on Thursday he shifted his tone, and sought to highlight what he claims is major action being taken by Mexico to stop migrants entering through its own southern border.
ABC News has not been able to independently confirm Trump’s claims that Mexico is stopping migrants from entering Mexico or deporting them. The Mexican government has also not publicly confirmed the detention numbers touted by Trump.
“Mexico, I have to say, has been very, very good,” Trump said Friday. “You know that, over the last four days since I talked about shutting down the border. If they continue that, everything will be fine.”
However, even as the president tampered his tone on Mexico, he drew a hard line in his message to would-be migrants and asylum seekers.
“This is our new statement: The system is full, can’t take you anymore, whether it’s asylum, whether it’s anything you want, illegal immigration, can’t take you anymore, our country is full, area is full, sector is full, we can’t take you any more, I’m sorry, turn around, that’s the way it is,” Trump said.
The president returned to the message over and over again, in a matter of fact fashion, during a roundtable discussion with border patrol agents of the El Centro sector in Calexico, California.
“When it’s full it’s full, you can’t take them, they’ll go back to Mexico and Mexico will take them back to their country,” Trump said.
Drawing a comparison to the Mueller probe, Trump called the asylum process a “scam” and a “hoax” by which he claimed gang members are able to gain entry into the US.
“I look at some of these asylum people, they're gang members, they're not afraid of anything, they have lawyers greeting them, they read what the lawyer tells them to read, they're gang members and they say I fear for my life, they're the ones that are causing fear for life, it's a scam ok, it's a hoax, I know about hoaxes, I just went through a hoax,” Trump said, causing the room to break into laughter.
While the president and the White House have sought to label the fencing as "New Wall" in line with the president's promises during his presidential campaign, planning for the section was identified as a priority as far back as 2009 under President Obama's administration before it was funded and constructed after Trump took office.
Trump's visit also comes immediately following a new escalation in the legal effort to thwart his attempt to build new wall with billions in Pentagon funds by declaring a national emergency.
As part of ongoing litigation in northern California, 20 states, led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, filed a new motion Friday for a preliminary injunction to block the Trump administration from diverting $1.6 billion to build a border wall.
The attorneys general claim that Trump is disregarding the will of Congress and separation of powers by moving these funds, which hurts their states, and also failing to provide the required environmental impact statement, particularly for New Mexico and other border states.
ABC's Lauren Pearle and Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.