WASHINGTON—While lunching with the presidents of Baltic countries on April 3, President Donald Trump talked about using the military to control the southwest border.
“We are going to be guarding our border with our military,” Trump said. “That’s a big step.”
He did not provide any further details about a military presence, but expressed his frustration over the porous border.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis were also present at the lunch.
Trump also commented on a caravan of around 1,200 Central Americans traveling north through Mexico toward the United States.
“If it reaches our border, our laws are so weak and so pathetic … it’s like we have no border,” he said.
The caravan is highlighting the loopholes in U.S. immigration law that create the so-called “catch and release” phenomenon.
Under catch and release, anyone crossing the border illegally from Central America and claiming asylum will most likely be released into the United States within a few weeks and given a date to show up at an immigration hearing that is sometimes years away. Most will not show up at their hearing.
“We cannot have people flowing into our country illegally, disappearing, and, by the way, never showing up for court,” he said.
Asylum seekers need to prove they have “credible fear” about returning to their home country.
“The credible fear process was intended to be a lifeline for persons facing serious persecution,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in Virginia on Oct. 12, 2017.
“But it has become an easy ticket to illegal entry into the United States.”
Cases that began with a credible fear claim jumped from approximately 3,000 cases in 2009 to more than 69,000 in 2016, Sessions said.
In 2016, compared to 2009, there were 700 percent more removal orders issued because people did not show up in court for their case based on a credible fear claim.
Removal orders issued after people failed to show up in court in all immigration cases have doubled since 2012, with nearly 40,000 issued in 2017 alone.
Trump has been busy on Twitter since the caravan set off in late March, threatening to leverage the North American Free Trade Agreement, which is currently under negotiation, if Mexico allows the group to continue. He also threatened to pull foreign aid from Honduras, where most of the caravan participants hail from.
“The big Caravan of People from Honduras, now coming across Mexico and heading to our ‘Weak Laws’ Border, had better be stopped before it gets there. Cash cow NAFTA is in play, as is foreign aid to Honduras and the countries that allow this to happen,” he wrote in a tweet early on April 3.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wrote in a tweet on April 2 that she is “working with Mexican officials to address the yearly illegal alien caravan. Exploring all options.”
Working with Mexican officials to address the yearly illegal alien caravan. Exploring all options.
— Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen (@SecNielsen) April 2, 2018
Mexican authorities responded by saying they’d allow some of the caravan members to apply for asylum in Mexico and about 400 had already been sent home.
“Under no circumstance does the Mexican government promote irregular migration,” Mexico’s Interior Department said in a statement released late on April 2.
The department also said Mexico is not responsible for stopping people from going to the United States to apply for asylum.
“It is not the responsibility of the Mexican government to make immigration decisions for the United States or any other nation; the appropriate U.S. authorities will decide, if necessary, whether or not to authorize entrance into their territory at the authorized ports of entry and exit for any members of the caravan that request it,” the statement said.
Trump said of Mexico’s actions, “They did it because you really have to do it.”
“The caravan doesn’t irritate me. The caravan makes me very sad that this can happen to the United States, where you have thousands of people that decide to just walk into our country, and we don’t have any laws that can protect it,” Trump said. “President Obama made changes that basically created no border.”
“It’s really sad that we don’t have laws that say we have a border, and if you don’t do it legally, you can’t come into the United States. To me, that’s a very sad thing for the people of the United States,” he said.
Trump also reiterated building a wall. He recently proposed that the military budget be used for its construction.
“We need to have a wall that’s about 700 to 800 miles of the 2,000-mile stretch,” he said.