President Donald Trump said he plans to deploy the U.S. military to guard the border with Mexico and has told Mexican leaders he would abandon NAFTA without assurances of help on securing the boundary.
"We are going to do some things, I’ve been talking to General Mattis, we’re going to be doing things militarily until we can have a wall and proper security," Trump said Tuesday during a meeting with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. "We’re going to be guarding our border with the military."
Trump has previously suggested that he could use money allocated for the U.S. military to construct the border wall for which he has so far been unable to secure congressional funding. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to say how Trump would re-direct the funding, which likely would require additional congressional approval.
The Defense Department has in the past helped the Department of Homeland Security with border security measures, and George W. Bush and Barack Obama both deployed National Guard troops to the border during their presidency to bolster security.
Trump also said he had heard that a caravan of Ecuadorian refugees traveling through Mexico in hopes of entering the U.S. was being broken up by the Mexican government, and credited his own pressure campaign over trade.
"They did it because I said, frankly, I said you really had to do it," Trump said. "We’re going to have a relationship on NAFTA, we’re going to have to include security in NAFTA."
More than 1,000 Central Americans, most from Honduras, are traveling north toward the U.S.’s southern border with the help of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, a group that has organized several similar “refugee caravans” in recent years. When the migrants arrive at a port of entry, they will likely claim asylum and be detained for a few weeks or as long as a year, Pueblo Sin Fronteras project coordinator Alex Mensing told ABC News. Two caravans traveled north last year and others have made similar trips since 2010.
Trump has faced pressure from immigration hawks to show that he remains committed to their cause after signing a government spending bill last month that falls far short of the goals he’d set for new border wall construction this year. After failing to reach an agreement with congressional Democrats to extend long-term protections against deportation for young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, Trump has repeatedly accused Democrats of not wanting to make a deal and has suggested on Twitter this week that a future deal is "dead."
At the same time, the Trump administration is crafting legislation to make it harder for refugees to gain asylum in the U.S. and to extend the periods of time that authorities can hold families and unaccompanied children at the border, a senior White House official said Monday.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Monday on Twitter that she was working with Mexican officials "to address the yearly illegal alien caravan."
“I echo @POTUS demand for Congress to address outdated and dangerous immigration loopholes - the system is broken,” Nielsen said. Traffickers and criminal groups “know how to exploit our laws. We need to get smarter, tougher. We are exploring all options to protect the Homeland.”
Trump has complained about the migrants the past two mornings, just as Fox News discussed the issue. He’s argued that border patrol agents don’t have the tools they need to do their jobs, placing the blame on congressional Democrats.
Trump also reiterated his complaints about a practice -- sometimes referred to as catch-and-release -- which allows immigrants found in the U.S. without proper documentation to be released while they wait for a hearing before an immigration judge. In February 2017, then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly ordered an end to the practice, though some reports suggest it has continued.
The president said the current legal system for handling refugees who entered the country illegally was "ridiculous."
"We have to change our policies, fast," he said.
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