US president Donald Trump has made a televised plea for border wall funding as he declared there is “a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul”.
Addressing the nation from the Oval Office for the first time, Mr Trump argued for funding on security and humanitarian grounds as he sought to put pressure on newly empowered Democrats amid an extended partial US government shutdown.
Mr Trump called on Democrats to return to the White House to meet with him, saying it was “immoral” for “politicians to do nothing”.
Previous meetings have led to no agreement as Mr Trump insists on the wall that was his signature promise in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Mr Trump, who has long railed against illegal immigration at the border, has recently seized on humanitarian concerns to argue there is a broader crisis that can only be solved with a wall along the US-Mexico border.
But critics say the security risks are overblown and his administration is at least partly to blame for the humanitarian situation.
Mr Trump has been discussing the idea of declaring a national emergency to allow him to circumvent Congress and move forward with the wall.
But he made no mention of such a declaration on Tuesday night.
Democrats have vowed to block funding for a 5.7 billion US dollar (£4.5 billion) wall, which they say would be immoral and ineffective, and have called on Mr Trump to reopen shuttered portions of the government while border negotiations continue.
Responding in their own televised remarks, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Mr Trump of misrepresenting the situation on the border.
Mr Schumer said Mr Trump “just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration”.
The partial government shutdown has reached its 18th day, making the closure the second-longest in history.
Ms Pelosi noted that the House of Representatives passed legislation to reopen government on the first day of the new Congress. But Mr Trump rejects that legislation because it does not have funding for his border wall.
She said: “The fact is: President Trump must stop holding the American people hostage, must stop manufacturing a crisis, and must reopen the government.”
Overall, Mr Trump largely restated his case for the wall without offering concessions or new ideas on how to resolve the stand-off.
Speaking in solemn tones from behind the Resolute Desk, he painted a dire picture of killings and drug deaths he argues come from unchecked illegal immigration, and asked: “How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?”
Mr Trump used emotional language, referring to Americans who were killed by people in the country illegally, saying: “I’ve met with dozens of families whose loved ones were stolen by illegal immigration. I’ve held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief-stricken fathers. So sad. So terrible.”