President Trump, blaming Democrats and the Mexican government for a progressively “dangerous” flow of illegal immigrants, unleashed a series of fiery tweets on Sunday in which he vowed “NO MORE DACA DEAL” and threatened to walk away from the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Minutes after wishing the nation a happy Easter Sunday, Mr. Trump denounced “liberal” laws that he said were preventing Border Patrol agents from doing their jobs. He said that Republicans should use the “nuclear option” to sidestep Democratic opposition in the Senate and enact “tough laws NOW.”
It was unclear whether the president’s tweets represented any change in his immigration policy, or were just the sort of venting he is known to do after reading a newspaper article or seeing a television program. The president, who spent much of his holiday weekend golfing with supporters and watching television, was possibly reacting to a “Fox and Friends” segment on immigration that had aired minutes before.
Whatever his intention, Mr. Trump’s Twitter outburst captured the fickle tendencies that have driven his policy positions on immigration. On one hand, he has suggested at times that he is open to extending citizenship to millions of undocumented people. On the other hand, he has denounced those who have entered the country illegally as brutal criminals and raged about lax enforcement that he said had permitted immigrants to pour into the country.
In his tweets, Mr. Trump referred to “caravans” of immigrants heading north toward the United States-Mexico border — a subject that was addressed on the Fox program. A group of hundreds of Central Americans has been traveling through Mexico toward the United States, where some hope to search asylum or sneak across the border. A reporter for BuzzFeedhas been traveling with the group as it makes its way north.
As he walked into church in Palm Beach on Sunday morning, Mr. Trump did not respond to a question from reporters about whether his tweets meant that he would no longer support any deal for the young immigrants protected by the DACA program. But he said that “Mexico has got to assist us at the border, and a lot of people are arriving in because they want to take advantage of DACA.”
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, gave protected status to hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. The program needs immigrants to have resided in the United States since 2007, meaning any crossing the border now would not be eligible.
Mr. Trump declared last year that he was ending the program, but courts have blocked his decision. He has said he is open to negotiating with Democrats on it, but has repeatedly backed away from potential deals that he argues do not include immigration changes that are tough enough.
Outside the church on Sunday, the president said the Democrats “blew it” after having “had a great chance.”
“But we’ll have to take a look,” he added.
Several Democrats challenged the idea that they were at fault for a breakdown in negotiations.
“‘NO MORE DACA DEAL’?!!” Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota wrote on Twitter. “You were never doing a DACA deal. Your actions gave you away: cancelling DACA with no plan, making racist comments about Black/Brown immigrants, ejecting several by bipartisan deals. You didn’t fool anybody.”
Representative Dwight Evans, Democrat of Pennsylvania, said on Twitter that DACA recipients were “students, military service members, teachers, scientists, doctors, and lawyers — they are integral members of our community.”
Mr. Evans said the president’s comments were “easily unacceptable.”
The president’s remarks also drew a rebuke from a high-profile member of his own party. Gov. John Kasich of Ohio wrote on Twitter: “A true leader preserves & offers hope, doesn’t take hope from innocent children who call America home.”
Mr. Trump directed an equal measure of anger at Mexico, saying the country was “doing very small, if not NOTHING, at stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their Southern Border, and then into the U.S.” He said Mexican leaders “must stop the big drug and people flows, or I will stop their cash cow, NAFTA.”
“NEED WALL!” he added.
It was far from the first time that Mr. Trump has threatened to scrap Nafta as he pushes to change American trade policiesthat he says have hurt the United States economy and cost the country huge numbers of jobs. The United States, Mexico and Canada are locked in difficult negotiations over a revamping of the trade pact.
The president’s tweets seemed at odds with some unifying steps taken last week by members of his administration: The homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, met with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico to discuss ways to work together on security and trade issues, according to a description of the conversation released by the Department of Homeland Security.
But Mr. Trump may have been hearing a harder-line administration voice over the weekend. He was accompanied to his Palm Beach resort, Mar-a-Lago, by Stephen Miller, a senior policy adviser who has shaped much of the administration’s tough stance on immigration.
The president, in his tweets, criticized what he called “Catch & Release,” a practice in which detained undocumented immigrants are sometimes released as they wait for a hearing before an immigration judge. In some cases, they are released because the government has nowhere to house them.
Critics say the practice — which, contrary to the president’s tweet, is not enshrined in law — gives the immigrants an opening to skip their hearing and settle undetected in the country. The Trump administration has declared an end to the practice, though it may take a while before significant changes are carried out.
Mr. Trump’s tweets on Sunday echoed remarks on “Fox and Friends” by Brandon Judd, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, whom the president has praised in the past.
“Our legislators actually have to stand up, and the Republicans control the House and the Senate, they do not need the Democrat support to pass any laws they want,” Mr. Judd said on the program. “They can go the nuclear option, just like what they did on the confirmation. They need to pass laws to end the catch-and-release program that’ll allow us to hold them for a long time.”
Mr. Judd also said that the “catch and release” policy was helping to lure the caravan of Central Americans to the United States.
A representative for a group called Pueblo Sin Fronteras, which organized the caravan, said that it would take four to six weeks before it reached the United States-Mexico border, and that the number of participants would be significantly smaller by then.
Most people are likely to drop out of the caravan in Mexico, rather than journey all the way to the border, the representative said, because they know they would be turned back by American border officials.
“Many of them know they won’t qualify for asylum. They are afraid of being detained,” said Roberto Corona, the group’s communications director, adding that most of them just wanted to reach Mexico, where they plan to speak with members of that country’s Congress.
Migrants who cannot prove that they face persecution or that their lives are endangered in their home country are unlikely to be allowed to remain in the United States. The Trump administration has also sought to increase detentions to deter would-be migrants.