Speaking to reporters on Thanksgiving Day in Florida, President Donald Trump threatened to close the southern border of the United States for an undisclosed period of time if Mexico is determined to have lost “control” on its side of the frontier. The president also said that before the November 6 election, he gave permission to the thousands of active-duty troops he sent to the border his permission to use lethal force against migrants “if they have to.” While he has faulted Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in the past for not being strict enough on border issues, he said today that she is “in there trying.” He affirmed, “It’s a tough job.”
From his Mar-a-Lago golf resort, Trump greeted selected members of the military around the world and conveyed his Thanksgiving wishes. His expression of gratitude to the troops segued into comments over a wide range of topics that included his admission that a partial government shutdown may ensue in December because Congress has not allocated billions in funding for his border wall.
This week, a federal judge issued a ruling that put Trump’s asylum policy on hold, which required foreigners seeking asylum to apply at official border entry points. Some ports of entry are facing huge backlogs, causing applicants to wait for weeks in Mexico. Early on Monday, immigration authorities shut down the San Ysidro, California, port of entry for several hours out of a concern that members of the migrant caravan now assembled across the border in Tijuana, Mexico, were poised to rush the border, much as they did on the border between Guatemala and Mexico in early October. After three hours, most of the lanes were reopened before the morning rush.
As to using lethal force by the military on the border, Trump said, “I hope they don’t have to,” and added that he will allow “the military be taken advantage of. I have no choice.” The law prohibits the federal government from using the military in domestic police roles, except in circumstances authorized by the Constitution or Congress. However, American troops are authorized to use force in self-defense. Trump said that if the United States “find that it’s incontrollable, if we find that it gets to a level where we are going to lose control or where people are going to start getting hurt, we will close entry into the country for a period of time until we can get it under control. The whole border.” He predicted that a border closure would be at the cost of Mexico’s economy, noting that Mexican-made cars could not be exported.
“We’re either going to have a border or we’re not,” Trump said.
On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that he has authority to use troops to protect Customs and Border Protection personnel at the border, with lethal force if necessary. However, he said that the military would hew to the law.
DHS Secretary Nielsen claimed earlier this week at the border on a beach near San Diego, California, that as many as 500 criminals and gang members were among the migrants planning to cross the border. She was there to examine the newly installed razor wire wrapped around the border wall that cuts across the sand. Trump repeated Nielsen’s claim and said on Thursday, that there are “fistfights all over the streets” in Tijuana, Mexico, and that “these are not like normal, innocent people.” He added, “These are people you talk to them and they start a fistfight,” and said, “I don’t want that in this country.” The president credited the Mexican people who “opened up with wide arms” to welcome the migrant caravan. Trump said that and “now they’re going crazy to get them out … because bad things are happening.”
In Tijuana, Mexico, local police have arrested three dozen caravan members for drug possession, public intoxication, disturbing the peace and resisting police. Mexican immigration authorities said that they would be deported. Currently there are about 4,000 migrants camped in Tijuana, according to some reports. Also, Mexican soldiers and marines are providing backup to local police in Tijuana.