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Donald Trump set to act on Mexico border wall

Donald Trump is pressing ahead with his controversial border security measures in his first week in office, including his plan to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.

Mr Trump on Wednesday was expected to follow through on his signature campaign issue by ordering the government to use funds to start building the wall. He told ABC News that construction along the 2,000-mile border would begin “in months”.

He was also preparing to unveil other border security measures, including significantly reducing the number of refugees accepted by the US, and a temporary ban on people from Syria and some other Muslim-majority countries from entering America.

The new president, who won the election with a populist, anti-immigrant message, was due to sign the orders during a visit to the homeland security department, which is headed by John Kelly, a retired general who was confirmed into the cabinet role on Friday.

Mr Trump hinted at the move on Tuesday night by Tweeting: “Big day planned on NATIONAL SECURITY tomorrow. Among many other things, we will build the wall!”

The New York Times reported that Mr Trump was also considering allowing “black sites” — the controversial overseas detention facilities that the Central Intelligence Agency used during the Bush administration to detain and torture suspected terrorists. Barack Obama ordered the sites closed when he became president in 2009.

Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, said the White House had not produced a document about reconsidering the use of black sites. “It is not a White House document. I have a no idea where it came from,” said Mr Spicer.

Mr Trump shocked the US political establishment when he launched his campaign by calling for a wall and describing Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers. His effort to start constructing the wall comes a week before Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto visits Washington.

Jorge Castañeda, a former Mexican foreign minister, said it was a “public slap in the face” a week before the presidential visit and at a time when the current Mexican foreign minister was in Washington to meet the Trump team.

Mr Trump insisted during the campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall — a line rejected by the Mexican government — but has since conceded that the US taxpayer would pay for the construction and then be reimbursed by Mexico.

The Wednesday moves mark the third day in a row Mr Trump has used executive orders to fulfil campaign promises. On Monday he withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, and will soon formally inform Mexico and Canada that he wants to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Mr Trump is also expected this week to announce a four-month halt to refugees entering the US from half-a-dozen majority-Muslim countries, including Syria. Religious minorities fleeing those countries, notably Christians, would be exempted.

During the campaign, Mr Trump sparked controversy by calling for a ban on Muslims entering the US — a suggestion that earned a rebuke from Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives — but he has since moderated that stance. He has described his new position as “extreme vetting”.

Michael McCaul, a congressman who chairs the House homeland security committee, estimated that the wall would cost $10bn-$20bn. Speaking at a Bloomberg Government event, he suggested one way to pay for the wall would be to impose a “border security fee” on US visas for people coming from Mexico and Central America.

Mr McCaul said that the wall was less likely to be a brick-and-mortar structure than a “myriad of assets” including fencing and drones, noting that the cost of a predator drone could in some cases be less expensive than one mile worth of fencing. “It’s not going to be a 2,000 mile Chinese wall. I think everyone understands that. I think the president understands that,” he said.

A senior Republican Senate aide said the executive actions were expected to have broad support among Republicans in Congress, but played down their significance, noting the US already did not allocate many visas to individuals from countries such as Somalia and Libya. Republicans had long promised to strengthen border security, the aide noted.

The aide portrayed the flurry of executive actions as a way for Mr Trump to shore up support among his voters after his first days in office were overshadowed by controversies. These have included testy press conferences between Mr Spicer and the media, dealing with contested claims, such as attendance numbers at the president’s inauguration.

“[Mr Trump] needs to get his base in line after a kind of creaky start,” the aide said. The new actions, he added, would “change the coverage”.

The move to make it harder for some Muslims to enter the US has already sparked criticism.

“Donald Trump is making good on the most shameful and discriminatory promises he made on the campaign trail,” said the National Iranian American Council. “He called for a Muslim ban and is now taking the first steps to implement one. This will not stand. The American people are better than this.”

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi

Via FT