President Trump on Wednesday conceded that U.S. taxpayers will foot the initial bill for his proposed wall on the nation's southern border, a project that will start “in months.”
Trump pledged during the 2016 campaign that he would make Mexico pay for the wall, which is meant to cut off the flow of drugs and illegal immigration into the U.S.
Now, he is saying the federal government will “absolutely” be “reimbursed at a later date.”
“As soon as we can. As soon as we can physically do it,” he said when asked when construction will begin.
Pressed on a timeline, Trump said: "I would say in months. Certainly planning is starting immediately."
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump later on Wednesday will issue two executive actions on border security, including one calling for the construction of “a large physical barrier on the southern border.”
The action will also provide the agency with enhanced “tools” to stop illegal immigration, Spicer said.
It would create more detention space for illegal immigrants, ending the so-called ”catch and release" that quickly returned border crossers back to Mexico instead of arresting and processing them for deportation.
The policy was a fixture of the Bush administration and was later reinstated on an informal basis by former President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaObama and Trump haven’t talked since inauguration Poll: Voters split on Trump's job performance GOP rep: Trump could be 'one-term president' if healthcare bill passes MORE.
Spicer argued the new action would prioritize the deportation of illegal immigrants previously convicted of other crimes, and would force foreign governments to take back their citizens.
A second action would withhold visas from countries to make sure they accept taking back people in the U.S. illegally who are found to break U.S. laws. It would also strip federal grants from "sanctuary" cities and states that to not enforce federal immigration enforcement laws.
Trump’s pledge to build a “great wall” between Mexico and the U.S. was hugely popular with his campaign supporters.
But it has also generated controversy, with critics calling the project impractical and ineffective.
More than 650 miles of walls, fences and other barriers already stand along the 2,000-mile southern border.
Independent estimates peg the cost of completing the physical barrier at between $15 billion and $25 billion. While existing legislation authorizes the construction of border fencing, he would likely need to ask Congress for more money.
His demand that Mexico pay for the wall could raise tensions with America’s southern neighbor at a time when the administration is also looking to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Trump’s comments come on the same day that Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray and other top officials are in Washington to meet with senior Trump administration aides.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who is scheduled to meet with Trump on Jan. 31, has insisted his government won’t pay for the wall, calling the project “against our dignity.”
“TRUMP, when will you understand that I am not paying for that f—— wall,” one of his predecessors, Vicente Fox, tweeted last month.
Updated 12:59 p.m.