WASHINGTON (AP) — In a surprise announcement that could compromise a major trade deal, President Donald Trump announced Thursday that he is slapping a 5% tariff on all Mexican imports to pressure the country to do more to crack down on the surge of Central American migrants trying to cross the U.S. border.
He said the percentage will gradually increase "until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied."
Trump made the announcement by tweet after telling reporters earlier Thursday that he was planning "a major statement" that would be his "biggest" so far on the border.
"On June 10th, the United States will impose a 5% Tariff on all goods coming into our Country from Mexico, until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP. The Tariff will gradually increase until the Illegal Immigration problem is remedied," he wrote, "at which time the Tariffs will be removed."
Trump has accused the Mexican government of failing to do enough to crack down on the surge of Central American migrants who have been flowing to the U.S in search of asylum from countries including El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
The announcement comes as the administration has been pushing for passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement that would update the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Trump's tariff threat comes at a time when Mexican authorities have been carrying out migrant raids and detaining thousands more who are traveling through the country on the way to the U.S.
The crumbling city of Tapachula, near the Guatemalan border, has become the epicenter of the crackdowns. Thousands of migrants have been stranded in the city because the Mexican government isn't providing them visas that allow them to travel. Authorities this week have been clearing out parks of camping migrants and raiding hotels where immigrants were staying.
Mexican authorities raided and largely broke up the last major migrant caravan, detaining hundreds of immigrants from Central America.
And the Mexican government has allowed the U.S. to return hundreds of asylum seekers from Central America and other countries to force them to wait their cases out in Mexico — in one of only a few immigration policies that have not been immediately struck down by the courts.
The White House said Trump would be using the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to implement the tariff.
"If the illegal migration crisis is alleviated through effective actions taken by Mexico, to be determined in our sole discretion and judgment, the Tariffs will be removed," the White House said in a statement.
But if Trump is not satisfied, the 5% figure will increase to 10% on July 1, to 15% on Aug. 1, to 20% on Sept. 1 and to 25% on Oct. 1, the White House said.
"Tariffs will permanently remain at the 25 percent level unless and until Mexico substantially stops the illegal inflow of aliens coming through its territory," the statement read.
During a visit to Canada on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence vowed the deal would be passed this year.
"Our administration is working earnestly with leaders in the Congress of the United States to approve the USMCA this summer," he said. Asked by reporters about the new tariff consideration, Pence said that both Mexico and Congress need to do more and that Trump is determined to use his authority to call on them to do so.
Trump had said Thursday morning that he was planning "a big-league statement" later Thursday or Friday regarding the border.
"We are going to do something very dramatic on the border because people are coming into our country. The Democrats will not give us laws," he said as he headed to a commencement speech for 2019 United States Air Force Academy graduates.