Trump zeroes in on tackling illegal immigration after spending bill criticism

President Trump zeroed in on illegal immigration and securing the border this week, ramping up rhetoric and leading a push to shore up the border -- reportedly reacting to backlash from conservatives over his handling of last month's omnibus spending bill.

"We are sealing up our Southern Border," Trump tweeted Saturday. "The people of our great country want Safety and Security. The Dems have been a disaster on this very important issue!"

Trump has appeared particularly focused on illegal immigration this week, particularly over the caravan of more than 1,000 Central American migrants that was making its way toward the U.S. border. 

Responding to initial reports that Mexican authorities were not initially stopping the progress, Trump threatened to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and also end foreign aid to countries such as Honduras, from where many of the migrants originated. He also called for tougher immigration laws.

“Our Border Laws are very weak while those of Mexico & Canada are very strong,” he tweeted Wednesday. “Congress must change these Obama era, and other, laws NOW!”

Trump has since praised Mexican officials for breaking up the caravan.

But Axios reported Trump focused on immigration and border issues not only because of the caravan. The outlet described Trump as having “buyer's remorse” for signing the controversial $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill -- which Trump had criticized at the time for lacking enough funding for the border wall.

While it provided $1.6 billion for border security, including for 100 miles of fencing, the money largely was for replacement of existing structures and ruled out the prototypes Trump recently viewed in California -- a move that immigration hardliners saw as a defeat.

Trump briefly mulled vetoing the legislation before he signed it, complaining about the lack of wall funding and also the lack of a legislative fix for the expiring Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which gives protection to some illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

Axios reported that the negative coverage Trump received for signing the budget-busting bill from conservative commentators on news outlets, including Fox News, “freaked him out.” Conservatives had slammed both GOP leaders and Trump for the bill, which they saw as funding liberal priortities without getting close to funding the approximately $25 billion for the wall.

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Axios reported Trump has been angry that immigration laws haven’t been toughened. Trump reportedly looked to use executive powers where possible and was looking to force action before the end of September -- when government funding runs out.

This week Trump has backed away from his DACA push, tweeting that “DACA is dead because the Democrats didn’t care or act, and now everyone wants to get onto the DACA bandwagon... No longer works.”

He also announced that he wants to send the National Guard to the border until the wall is built and proper security measures are in place. On Friday he issued a memorandum directing his administration to end "catch-and-release," under which illegal immigrants caught at the border were released temporarily while their cases were processed.

"The safety and security of the American people is the President's highest priority and he will keep his promise to protect our country and to ensure that our laws are respected," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

Other administration officials have followed Trump’s lead, citing figures that showed the number of illegal crossing attempts at the border soared 203 percent this past March compared to March 2017. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Friday the administration was implementing a “zero-tolerance” policy for prosecuting those attempting to enter the U.S. illegally.

In a memo, Sessions had told U.S. attorneys along the border to adopt a policy of prosecuting all referrals from DHS of illegal entry and attempted illegal entry into the U.S. It came almost a year after Sessions issued a memo to federal prosecutors directing them to prioritize certain immigration offenses.

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Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said this week that "we will not allow illegal immigration levels to become the norm."

She continued, "More than 1,000 people a day, 300,000 a year violating our sovereignty as a nation will never be acceptable to this president."