President Trump said on Tuesday that he would be sending U.S. troops to guard the country’s southern border with Mexico, citing “weak and pathetic” immigration laws implemented under President Obama.
“President Obama made changes that basically created no border. Catch and release. You catch them, you register them, they go into our country. We can’t throw them out. In many cases they shouldn’t be here,” he said during a televised meeting with Baltic States leaders on Tuesday. “…They’re in our country. And we can’t do anything about it because the laws that were created by Democrats are so pathetic and so weak.”
He added, “I’ve been speaking with Gen. Mattis, [the secretary of defense]. We’ll be doing things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’ll be guarding our border with the military. That’s a big step. We really haven’t done that before, or certainly not very much before. But we will be doing things with Mexico, and they have to do it.”
According to Politico, Mattis was against the idea of sending troops to the southern border, with anonymous senior officials in the Department of Homeland Security claiming that the administration had no official deployment plans in place. The officials cited “unresolved policy issues” as the reason for the hold up.
Trump’s claim about being the first to implement such a decision and place troops at the southern border is inherently false. Previously both Presidents George W. Bush and Obama called up 6,000 and 1,200 National Guard troops to the border, respectively, in an effort to assist local law enforcement with immigration duties. As educational website ThoughtCo reported in August, neither president was required to suspend the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act, which prevents the use of military force to carry out civilian law enforcement tasks, because troops were predominantly used to assist local police with reconnaissance and “counternarcotics enforcement” until more Border Patrol agents could be installed in their place.
The president on Tuesday also singled out a caravan of immigrants from Honduras, making their way through Mexico on an annual pilgrimage to raise awareness about the dangers facing those who choose to take the long journey to the southern U.S. border. Participants say their eventual goal is to gain asylum in the United States.
According to the Washington Post, Mexican authorities stopped the group on Monday evening, registering some of the travelers and requiring others to leave the country within 10 days. Some of the travelers, including “vulnerable” individuals such as pregnant people and those with disabilities, qualified for humanitarian visas, they added.
“I just noticed the caravan now, which is toward the middle of Mexico coming up from Honduras, is breaking up very rapidly. That’s because Mexico has very strong immigration laws, as we should have,” Trump said on Tuesday. “…We cannot have people flowing into our country illegally.”
Asked to address his decision to send troops to the border in a subsequent press conference with Baltic States leaders, the president doubled down.
“We are preparing for the military to secure our border between Mexico and the United States,” he said. “We have a meeting on it in a little while with Gen. Mattis and everybody. And I think that it is something that we have to do. The caravan, which is over 1,000 people coming in from Honduras, thought they were just going to walk through Mexico and right through the border.”
He added, “We’ll see what happens. But we have to have strong borders. We need the wall.”
Trump’s statements were the culmination of a lengthy Twitter rant this week in which the president claimed Mexico needed to do more to stop the immigrants from trying to get into the United States.
“Mexico has the absolute power not to let these large ‘Caravans’ of people enter their country. They must stop them at their Northern Border, which they can do because their border laws work, not allow them to pass through into our country, which has no effective border laws,” he wrote on Monday.
Mexico has the absolute power not to let these large “Caravans” of people enter their country. They must stop them at their Northern Border, which they can do because their border laws work, not allow them to pass through into our country, which has no effective border laws…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2018
A day earlier, on Easter Sunday, Trump claimed that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was at fault for drawing immigrants to the country.
“Border Patrol Agents are not allowed to properly do their job at the Border because of ridiculous liberal (Democrat) laws like Catch & Release,” he tweeted. “Getting more dangerous. ‘Caravans’ coming. Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!”
These big flows of people are all trying to take advantage of DACA. They want in on the act!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 1, 2018
Trump also threatened to kill NAFTA if Mexico did not stop immigrants from reaching the U.S. border.
“Mexico is doing very little, if not NOTHING, at stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their Southern Border, and then into the U.S.,” he wrote. “They laugh at our dumb immigration laws. They must stop the big drug and people flows, or I will stop their cash cow, NAFTA. NEED WALL!”
The president has struggled to obtain funding for his proposed border wall, a major campaign promise for which Trump initially claimed Mexico would pay.