MEXICO CITY (AFP) - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday (Oct 19) that illegal migration across the US-Mexican border is near crisis levels, as a caravan of Honduran migrants prepared to enter Mexico bound for the United States.
"President (Donald) Trump's been clear about the largest issue we face today. We are quickly reaching a point which appears to be a moment of crisis: record numbers of migrants," Pompeo said during a visit to Mexico City.
"The challenge related to security for our southern border is... a challenge for American sovereignty. We have to fix US laws in order to handle this properly," he told a joint press conference with his Mexican counterpart.
"This moment has enormous implications for the opioid epidemic in the US," he added, linking two issues Trump has repeatedly used to argue for his planned border wall: drug trafficking and illegal migration.
Pompeo's trip came as a caravan of thousands of Honduran migrants prepared to cross the border from Guatemala to Mexico on their northbound journey, drawing warnings from Trump that he would cut aid to the region, deploy the military and close the US-Mexican border if authorities did not stop them.
On Thursday, Trump branded the migrants an "onslaught" and an "assault on our country" in a series of typically fiery tweets.
Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray insisted Mexico would not cave to pressure to detain the migrants, vowing to respect their human rights and urging the Trump administration to address the root causes of their northward flight: violent crime and poverty.
"Mexico's migration policy is for Mexico to decide," he said.
"Our position, in essence, is to respect human rights and dignity and protect this group of migrants, particularly the most vulnerable: children, the elderly, pregnant women."
However, on the border, there were signs Mexico was complying with Trump's wishes.
Beneath a sign reading "Welcome to Mexico," hundreds of riot police formed a barricade on the bridge at the border crossing near where the migrants have gathered, in the city of Tecun Uman, Guatemala.
Mexico has vowed to detain any migrants who cross without visas, though it has also said it will process their asylum requests, and has asked for the UN refugee agency's help in doing so.
Trump has made curbing illegal immigration a keystone of his presidency.
Barely a week goes by without him warning about the danger posed by ultra-violent Central American gangs like MS-13, while chants of "build the wall" are a staple of his pre-midterms campaign rallies.