US immigration

Donald Trump threatens migrants who throw stones at US troops could be shot

  • In a speech at the White House, Trump ratcheted up his attacks on the migrants
  • Trump said people apprehended entering the US illegally would be held in tent cities on the Mexican border
PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 November, 2018, 5:08am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 November, 2018, 9:48am

US President Donald Trump said American soldiers on the border with Mexico may fire on migrants who commit violence and that people who cross into the country illegally would be detained in “massive” tent cities, as he sought to rev up his base ahead of elections next week.

In a speech at the White House on Thursday, Trump ratcheted up his attacks on the migrants, insisting without evidence that the impoverished families walking toward the US were violent invaders who will endanger Americans’ safety if they’re allowed into the country.

“They’ve overrun the Mexican police and they’ve overrun and hurt, badly, Mexican soldiers,” Trump said of so-called migrant “caravans” from Central America.

“They want to throw rocks at our military? Our military fights back. I told them: ‘Consider it a rifle’.”

While Trump tried to portray the caravans as a “crisis” the closest group is still hundreds of kilometres from the US border.

The speech was the latest effort by the president to stoke voters’ fears of immigration in hopes of boosting Republican turnout on Tuesday.

In the past week, he’s also ordered thousands of troops to the US-Mexico border to stop the migrant caravans and proposed ending by executive order the Constitution’s guarantee of citizenship to anyone born in the US.

He promised to make it much more difficult for unauthorised immigrants to claim asylum, and urged so-called “caravans” of migrants headed toward the border from Central America to turn back.

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The Department of Homeland Security referred questions about the tent cities to the Department of Defence.

Trump said people apprehended entering the US illegally would be held in tent cities on the Mexican border that he said are under construction by the military.

“We’re going to hold them right there,” he said.

“We’re not letting them into our country.”

Trump didn’t directly answer a question about whether the children of migrants would again be separated from their parents if they cross the border, and he suggested that if migrants commit violence such as throwing rocks at US troops deployed to the border they could be met with gunfire. Trump was criticised by lawmakers in both parties earlier this year after his administration separated about 3,000 children from carers after they crossed the Mexican border.

“We’re working on a system where they’ll stay together,” Trump said of families caught after crossing the border.

Asked if the military would fire on the migrants, he said: “I hope there won’t be that.”

He said some of the migrants in the caravans threw stones at Mexican police and soldiers.

“We will consider that a firearm. Because there’s not much difference,” Trump said.

Trump has long criticised US asylum law, which allows migrants to request protection upon arriving in the country regardless of how they enter.

Asylum claims are initially heard by immigration officers who must determine whether migrants have a “credible fear” of being returned to their home country.

If so, they are granted future hearings in immigration courts and either held in detention or released into the US.

Senior Trump administration officials have previously encouraged asylum seekers to make their claims at official ports of entry.

But immigrant advocates at the border earlier this year said that Customs and Border Patrol officers made it difficult for migrants to cross bridges, turning them away at the midpoint between Mexico and the US.

In June, officers were visible on bridges in the Rio Grande Valley, blocking pedestrians from crossing.

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“Migrants seeking asylum will have to present themselves lawfully at a port of entry,” Trump said. “Those who choose to break our laws and enter illegally will no longer be able to use meritless claims to enter our country. We will hold them. For a long time, if necessary.”

About 20 per cent of asylum applications were granted in 2017, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

If Trump attempts to indefinitely detain children in tent cities with their parents, he likely will run afoul of a court order forbidding the practice.

Under a settlement agreement with the US known as Flores, migrant children must be released either to guardians or to facilities supervised by the Department of Health and Human Services after no more than 20 days in immigration detention.

The speech follows a series of proposals and statements on immigration that Trump’s opponents have called outlandish stunts.

Late Wednesday, Trump promoted a racially charged advertisement on Twitter showing an undocumented immigrant who killed two police officers in California smirking and boasting in court as the words

“Democrats let him into our country” and “let him stay” flash across the screen.

Senator Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, called the ad “sickening” and said Republicans “should denounce it.”

The targets of Trump’s verbal attacks expanded earlier on Wednesday to include House Speaker Paul Ryan, a fellow Republican who has raised millions of dollars for the party’s candidates, but who criticised Trump’s proposal to end so-called “birthright citizenship.”

Babies born in the US are deemed American citizens under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which grants citizenship to “all persons born or naturalised in the United States.”

Lawyers on both the right and left have said Trump can’t alter the interpretation of the amendment by fiat.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse