"I’m going to have to call up more military,” he said Wednesday during a roundtable with supporters in Texas related to his plans for a southern border wall and tighter immigration laws for Central and South American migrants.
“Our military, don’t forget, can’t act like a military would act. Because if they got a little rough, everybody would go crazy … They have all these horrible laws that the Democrats won't change.”
The military isn't leaving the border anytime soon, the acting secretary expects.
Neither the president nor White House officials clarified how many troops may be added or whether Trump’s comments reflected concerns about the Posse Comitatus Act, a 19th- century federal law that restricts active-duty military participation in domestic law enforcement activities.
Trump’s remarks came a day after acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said he “would expect us to do more” in the border mission, given “how much the situation there has deteriorated.”
About 5,000 military personnel are currently deployed to the border mission. Of those, about 3,000 are active-duty troops and 2,100 are National Guard members. The number has fluctuated by several hundred individuals over the last six months.
Their current mission is in support of Homeland Security operations, reinforcing barriers and providing logistics support but not directly engaging with or detaining any immigrants or asylum seekers.
White House and Pentagon officials have said that the military’s border mission, which began in October, will continue until at least this fall, but could extend even further if conditions warrant. Critics have accused the president of militarizing the immigration debate and in appropriately using service members for a non-emergency.
Trump and congressional Democrats have also been locked in a months-long battle over funding for his controversial border wall proposal, which culminated in an extended partial government shutdown at the start of the year.
The more than 5,200 active-duty troops being sent by President Donald Trump to the U.S.-Mexico border will be limited in what they can do under a federal law that restricts the military from engaging in law enforcement on American soil.
In February, Trump announced that he plans to use more than $3 billion in unspent military construction funds to advance the wall project, over the objections of Congress. Pentagon officials have promised they will replace that money in future years, but lawmakers would have to approve such a move.
Trump has also suggested that if his wall proposal does not receive support, he could indefinitely use military members to fill in gaps in border security.
At a speech in Houston later in the afternoon, the president promised supporters “hundreds of miles [of wall] by the end of next year” and that Democratic opponents would see significant repercussions in the 2020 elections.
Over the weekend, Trump forced Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign over policy differences related to the immigration issue.