WASHINGTON (AP) — Eager to focus voters on immigration in the lead-up to the midterm elections, President Donald Trump on Monday escalated his threats against a migrant caravan trudging slowly toward the U.S. border as the Pentagon prepared to deploy thousands of U.S. troops to support the border patrol.
Trump tweeted: “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”
His warning came as the Pentagon worked out details of sending thousands of troops to the border in response to the caravan of Central American immigrants, which was still hundreds of miles from the U.S. border, three administration officials said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a troop plan that was not yet completed and had not yet been approved by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. The White House is also weighing additional border security measures, including blocking those traveling in the caravan from seeking legal asylum and keeping them from entering the U.S.
The escalating rhetoric and expected deployments come as the president has been trying to turn the caravan into a key election issue with just days to go before the midterm elections that will determine whether Republicans maintain control of Congress.
“This will be the election of the caravans, the Kavanaughs, law and order, tax cuts, and you know what else? It’s going to be the election of common sense,” Trump said at a rally in Illinois on Saturday night.
He continued his threats on Monday, tweeting, without providing evidence, that, “Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border.”
“Please go back,” he urged them, “you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that the planned deployment, first announced late last week, was likely to be much larger than the preliminary figures of 800 to 1,000 troops. The Journal reported that the Pentagon plans to deploy 5,000 troops, mainly military police and engineers.
“Planning is still underway,” Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday. “It remains premature to speculate on total numbers or specific forces to be selected to support the Department of Homeland Security’s mission.”
The troops are expected to perform a wide variety of functions such as transporting supplies for the Border Patrol, but not engage directly with migrants seeking to cross the border from Mexico, officials said.
National Guard troops routinely perform those same functions, so it remains unclear clear why active duty forces would be used. The National Guard is often used by states to help with border security. But active duty troops are rarely deployed within the United States except for domestic emergencies like hurricanes or floods.
The U.S. military has already begun delivering jersey barriers to the southern border in conjunction with the deployment plans.
Mattis told reporters traveling with him Sunday that the deployment was still being worked out, but that the additional troops would provide logistical and other support to the Border Patrol and bolster the efforts of the approximately 2,000 National Guard forces already there. That includes functions such as air support and equipment, including vehicles and tents.
Trump has spent the last week trying to call attention to the caravan traveling by foot through Mexico. It remains hundreds of miles from U.S. soil.
Some members of Congress have raised concerns about sending U.S. military personnel to the border.
Rep. Anthony Brown, D-MD, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, issued a statement suggesting the President was politicizing the border ahead of the mid-term elections.
He said he “believes it is irresponsible for the President to use Guardsmen and active duty military personnel as pawns in his political game.”
Brown also noted that if 5,000 military personnel are deployed at the border, that would bring the overall number to more than 7,000 – which would surpass the number of service members deployed in Iraq or Syria.
Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor in Prague and WTOP’s Mitchell Miller contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.