President Donald Trump said he’d mobilise the US military to close the border with Mexico to stop an “assault” on the nation by a caravan of migrants from Central America.
Mr Trump, who ran in 2016 promising to tighten US immigration laws and stanch the inflow of undocumented migrants, has called for cutting off foreign aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador if they don’t stop the migrants.
“In addition to stopping all payments to these countries, which seem to have almost no control over their population, I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught - and if unable to do so I will call up the US Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!” Trump said on Twitter.
Hours later, Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement that “the Department of Defense has not been tasked to provide additional support” beyond National Guard troops already providing assistance.
Mr Trump also attempted to politicise the issue Thursday by claiming – without providing evidence – that Democrats are backing the human movement to bolster what he said was the party’s preference for “open borders and existing weak laws.”
Democrats in Congress generally have supported a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants – but only those who meet certain criteria – and have never proposed doing away with border rules. Democrats in 2013 led the charge to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, an effort that stalled because of opposition from Republicans who controlled the House.
The issue has gained new urgency under Mr Trump, whose ‘zero-tolerance’ policy of enforcing border laws came under fire earlier this year after attorney general Jeff Sessions announced a plan that included separating migrant families. Though the administration abandoned that policy, Mr Trump has said he’s considering bringing it back as a deterrent.
Currently more than 2,000 people – including many who left home so quickly they brought only backpacks – are making their way from Honduras, traveling through Guatemala and heading toward the US, The Associated Press reports.
In April, Mr Trump authorised the National Guard to protect the border as a similar group of migrants headed up from Central America. He later credited authorities in Mexico for breaking up that assembly.
The Defense Department has in the past helped the Department of Homeland Security with border security. And former presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama both deployed National Guard troops to the border during their administrations to bolster security.
But American law may also restrict how much the military can do to carry out Mr Trump’s wishes: the 19th-century Posse Comitatus Act is viewed as prohibiting the use of the military to execute domestic laws, according to a 2013 report by the Congressional Research Service.
In other Twitter posts, Mr Trump claimed – without substantiation – that many in the caravan are criminals.