President Donald Trump declared a "growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border" during an address to the nation on Tuesday night from the Oval Office.
"All Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration," Trump said, calling the problem a "crisis of the heart and crisis of the soul."
He added, "This is the cycle of human suffering I am determined to end."
The president's address comes as a partial government shutdown stretches into its third week, prompted by an acrimonious standoff between Trump and House Democrats over his demand for more than $5 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In the days leading up to the address, the administration has been painting a bleak picture of immigration at the southern border. In a briefing with reporters on Monday, Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen used the word "crisis" 36 times when talking about the border. And in a "Today" show interview Tuesday morning Pence used the word nine times.
The immigration system has long been an issue that both parties have agreed needs to be fixed, but numerous attempts by Congress and previous administrations to address the issue have largely gone nowhere due to partisan divides and even intraparty disputes.
An Associated Press poll, conducted before the shutdown, found that nearly half of Americans — 49 percent — listed immigration as a problem, with 65 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of Democrats citing it as a top issue. Also, according to December Quinnipiac poll, a majority — 54 percent — opposed building the wall, with 86 percent of Republicans, 45 percent of independents and eight percent of Democrats backing the idea.Trump has frequently called immigration laws "weak," and has pressed Congress to do something.The president has repeatedly tried to pin the blame on Democrats, accusing them of failing to close "loopholes" in the law, such as the visa lottery and family-sponsored immigration, which he has derided as "chain migration." Trump has also blamed Democrats for his administration's policy of separating immigrant families at the border, the so-called catch-and-release policy, and for the deaths of two migrant children in detention at the southern border.
During the midterms, Trump went on a dizzying tour across the country using immigration and border security as the centerpiece of his closing message to GOP voters and he increasingly ratcheted up his anti-immigrant rhetoric in the run-up to Election Day.
During that time, he offered grim warnings about an "invasion" from a caravan of migrants and the "criminals" approaching the southern border. Trump also claimed without evidence in November that Democrats, who says want "open borders," are "openly encouraging millions of illegal aliens to break our laws, violate our borders and overrun our country.
"Ahead of the election, Trump deployed active-duty troops to the southern border and floated ending birthright citizenship with an executive order. He also tweeted an immigration adfeaturing an unrepentant, twice-deported Mexican immigrant convicted of killing two law enforcement officers. The ad was widely slammed as racist and prompted comparisons to the infamous "Willie Horton" ads that ran during the 1988 presidential campaign.
A Democratic rebuttal to Trump's Oval Office address is expected minutes after it concludes from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, which will air on major broadcast and cable networks.