BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — President Donald Trump said Sunday he'd be willing to shut down the government if Democrats refuse to vote for changes he seeks to the U.S. immigration system, including building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
"I would be willing to 'shut down' government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security, which includes the Wall!" Trump tweeted. "Must get rid of Lottery, Catch & Release etc. and finally go to system of Immigration based on MERIT!
"We need great people coming into our Country!" Trump said.
Trump campaigned on the promise of building a border wall to deter illegal immigration. Congress has given him some funding but not as much as he has requested. Trump also wants changes to legal immigration, including scrapping a visa lottery program. In addition, he wants to end the practice of releasing immigrants caught entering the country illegally on the condition that they show up for court hearings.
Trump has also demanded that the U.S. shift to an immigration system that's based more on merit and less on family ties.
Democrats and some Republicans have objected to some of the changes Trump seeks.
The federal budget year ends Sept. 30, and lawmakers will spend much of August in their states campaigning for re-election in November.
Trump would be taking a political risk if he does, in fact, allow most government functions to grind to a halt on Oct. 1 — the first day of the new budget year — roughly a month before the Nov. 6 elections, when Republican control of both chambers of Congress is at stake.
House Republicans released a spending bill this month that provides $5 billion next year to build Trump's wall, a major boost.
Democrats have long opposed financing Trump's wall but lack the votes by themselves to block House approval of that amount. But they have the strength to derail legislation in the closely divided Senate. Without naming a figure, Trump said in April that he would "have no choice" but to force a government shutdown this fall if he doesn't get the border security money he wants.
The $5 billion is well above the $1.6 billion in the Senate version of the bill, which would finance the Homeland Security Department. The higher amount matches what Trump has privately sought in conversations with Republican lawmakers, according to a GOP congressional aide who wasn't authorized to publicly talk about private discussions and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Two leading Democrats — Reps. Nita Lowey of New York and California's Lucille Roybal-Allard — called the $5 billion a waste that "only further enables this administration's obsession with cruel attacks on immigrants."
Separately Sunday, Trump tweeted that there are "consequences when people cross our Border illegally" and claimed that many who do so are "using children for their own sinister purposes."
Trump's tweet came several days after the government said more than 1,800 children separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under Trump's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy have been reunited with parents and sponsors. A federal judge had ordered the reunions to be completed by last Thursday but hundreds of children remain separated. The administration says some of their parents have criminal histories.
"Please understand, there are consequences when people cross our Border illegally, whether they have children or not - and many are just using children for their own sinister purposes," Trump said.
He also said Congress must fix "the DUMBEST & WORST immigration laws anywhere in the world!" and urged voters to "Vote 'R'" in November.
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.