WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump sent a message Thursday to Central Americans heading toward the Southwest border.
“These illegal caravans will not be allowed into the United States. And they should turn back now,” Trump warned during a speech at the White House.
“My administration is finalizing a plan to end the rampant abuse of our asylum system,” Trump told reporters. When the plan is ready, migrants would have to “present themselves lawfully at a port of entry” to be considered for asylum. Those who cross the border “illegally” would not be eligible for asylum.
“Asylum is not a program for those living in poverty,” Trump added. “There are billions of people in the world living at the poverty level. The United States cannot possibly absorb them all. Asylum is a very special protection intended only for those fleeing government persecution based on race, religion and other protected status.”
Trump’s comments drew a swift rebuke from ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project director Omar Jadwat.
“President Trump did not announce an immigration policy this afternoon, but repeatedly lied about the asylum system, his family separation policy, and his largely unfunded wall,” Jadwat said in a statement. “If he plans at some point to prohibit people from applying for asylum between the ports of entry, that plan is illegal.”
Trump said his administration would end the practice of “catch and release” and house migrants in “massive cities of tents” until their legal cases are completed.
Under current protocol, many asylum seekers are released while their cases make their way through back-logged courts — a process that can take years.
“Eventually people won’t be coming here any more when they realize they can’t get through,” Trump said, adding that he would sign a comprehensive executive order next week.
There are currently four caravans making their way toward the U.S. The main group of about 4,000 migrants — down from its estimated peak of more than 7,000 — remains in southern Mexico, mostly on foot and hundreds of miles from the border. A second, smaller group of 1,000 or so is more than 200 miles behind the first. A third band of about 500 from El Salvador has made it to Guatemala, and a fourth group of about 700 set out from the Salvadoran capital Wednesday.
In his remarks, Trump blamed the caravans on “Democrat-backed laws” that serve as a magnet for Central Americans who are not likely to qualify for asylum as well as judicial rulings that have hampered immigration enforcement.
Thursday’s announcement was Trump’s latest attempt to keep the issue of immigration front-and-center as he tries to drum up enthusiasm among his GOP base in the final stretch before next Tuesday’s elections, which will determine whether the GOP retains control of Congress.
But the announcement did not quite live up to Trump’s own hype. On Wednesday, the president teased reporters with the suggestion that he would double or triple the number of U.S. troops sent to the border — now at 5,000 — but he made no such announcement.
After his remarks, Trump left for an evening political rally in Missouri, the latest in a daily series he has scheduled leading up to the midterm elections. Republicans are fighting to keep Democrats from winning 23 seats needed to control the House, and maintain their control of the Senate.
“What is clear from the timing and vague nature of today’s remarks is that he is simply trying to inflame his base in the final run-up to the midterms,” said Jadwat.
On Tuesday, Trump told “Axios on HBO” that he planned to sign an executive order to end automatic citizenship for babies born in the United States to noncitizens.
On Wednesday, Trump retweeted a campaign video that featured Luis Bracamontes, a twice-deported immigrant with an extensive criminal history, now on California’s death row for killing two northern California law enforcement officers in 2014. “Democrats let him into our country,” the video claimed, and “Democrats let him stay.”
Politifact rated the video “pants on fire” false as “Democratic and Republican administrations deported Bracamontes, but also failed to keep Bracamontes out of the United States. We found no evidence that he was proactively allowed to stay.”
On Twitter, Democratic leaders tended to ignore Trump’s remarks as they have focused on health care, the issue they consider most likely to help their candidates.
“He’s really assumed full control of this midterm,” opined Republican political consultant Matt Mackowiak, and he’s “not letting these (GOP) candidates run their own races.”
If Trump were focused on changing birthright citizenship, Mackowiak said, “You would roll it out in a far more advanced and cohesive way if it were a strategy. But it’s not a strategy, it’s a fly by the seat of the pants.”
Troops begin arriving at border
A U.S. official says the first 100 or so active-duty troops have arrived at the U.S.-Mexican border to provide support for border patrol agents as a caravan of migrants slowly makes its way north.
The troops are doing initial assessments at the port of entry in McAllen, Texas. The official says there are about 2,600 U.S. troops now at staging bases, largely in Texas, with several thousand more expected to flow in through the weekend and move into California and Arizona.
The Pentagon says more than 7,000 active-duty troops are being sent to the Southwest border, with more possible. President Donald Trump has said the number could reach 15,000.
The Associated Press