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As images of migrant children fleeing tear gas near the U.S.-Mexico border made rounds Monday, President Donald Trump aimed to use the chaos to attempt to score a political victory.
The government repelled hundreds of migrants who tried to cross illegally near the busy San Ysidro port of entry Sunday, claiming they threw "projectiles" at U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents. The Trump administration temporarily shut down the port near San Diego on Sunday, reopening it on Sunday night.
Trump — who has cast many of the asylum-seeking migrants fleeing violence in Central America as violent criminals — seized on the clash Monday as he pushes for Congress to fund his proposed border wall. In a tweet, he called on Mexico to send the migrants to their home countries and threatened to "close the Border permanently if need be." It is not clear that Trump has the power to unilaterally shut down the border, a move that could stifle some commerce.
"Congress, fund the WALL!" he wrote.
Congress is rushing to strike a deal to fund large parts of the government by Dec. 7 to avoid a partial government shutdown. On Thursday, Trump said "there certainly could be" a shutdown over border security as he seeks $5 billion for wall construction in the next fiscal year.
As backlash over the use of tear gas mounts, Trump again finds himself embroiled in an immigration crisis worsened by his administration's actions and marked by visceral images of children suffering. The tactics may only embolden Democrats as Trump tries to secure their votes for one of his top political goals.
Democrats seized on the images that started circulating Sunday. One in particular — which showed a woman grasping two bare-footed children as they run from a plume of gas spreading behind them — sparked outrage.
"Shooting tear gas at children is not who we are as Americans," wrote Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, in a tweet. "Seeking asylum is not a crime. We must be better than this."
Trump defended the use of tear gas on Monday. He said "they had to" because they "were being rushed by some very tough people." He added that "nobody's coming into our country unless they come here legally."
His administration also justified the tactics on Sunday night. In a statement, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said "some of these migrants attempted to breach legacy fence infrastructure along the border and sought to harm [Customs and Border Protection] personnel by throwing projectiles at them."
"As I have continually stated, DHS will not tolerate this type of lawlessness and will not hesitate to shut down ports of entry for security and public safety reasons," she said.
The escalating border crisis once again puts Trump in the position of defending the use of controversial tactics on migrant children. Earlier this year, he justified his administration's separation of migrant parents from children as a deterrent to illegal entry, only to rescind the policy amid widespread outrage.
Few actions during Trump's time in office have sparked more bipartisan backlash than the family separation policy.
Democrats appear unlikely to pass Trump's preferred border wall funding without getting major concessions on shielding young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Democratic lawmakers in the past have shown a willingness to compromise on border security funding in exchange for legal protections and a pathway to citizenship for at least 1.5 million undocumented immigrants.
Before the escalation Sunday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., signaled as much. She told ABC News that she could agree to border funding "to get an agreement and to make sure we do something on immigration reform."
It is unclear now whether the furor over the use of tear gas will make Democrats less likely to strike a deal with Trump.