President Trump said on Tuesday that he would deploy the military to the southern border with Mexico until the government agrees to build his proposed border wall for keeping out undocumented immigrants.
The comments come as the Trump administration rolls out a number of policies that could make life much more difficult for the most vulnerable refugees and immigrants arriving in the United States.
“We are going to be guarding our border with our military. That’s a big step,” Trump said while meeting with senior officials and leaders of Baltic states on Tuesday. “We cannot have people flowing into our country illegally, disappearing, and by the way, never showing up for court.”
Trump has failed to find enough support in Washington to build his “big, beautiful wall” on the southern border and is under increasing pressure from the hard right to fulfill a central campaign promise. Trump has privately considered funding the wall with the US military budget, according to sources cited by CNN last week.
Trump and his nativist supporters were riled up by reports that a caravan of Central American migration activists is headed across Mexico to the US border. Organizers say the caravan is part of an annual human rights campaign and most participants plan to seek legal asylum to escape violence in their home countries rather than enter the US illegally. Trump said on Tuesday that the caravan made him “sad” about the nation’s weak immigration laws.
The White House is also crafting legislation that would roll back restrictions on who can be jailed and deported by immigration officers at the border, including children arriving without parents or guardians. Last week Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that pregnant women were no longer exempt from being jailed for alleged immigration violations while awaiting court hearings.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) said that reports of pregnant women being shackled, locked in solitary confinement and denied adequate food and medical care inside immigration jails makes their plight “one of the most pressing issues in society.”
“To further expand detention of pregnant women is nothing more than a shameful attempt to benefit wealthy private prison corporations while pandering to the anti-immigrant factions of Trump’s base at the expense of vulnerable pregnant immigrants,” Grijalva said in a statement.
In a statement presumably meant to clarify a rash of angry and inaccurate tweets about immigration posted by Trump early this week, the White House claims that “waves” of “Unaccompanied Alien Children” and “Family Units” have been exploiting loopholes in the immigration system for years.
Maru Mora Villalpando, one of several immigration activists nationwide who say they have been targeted for deportation in retaliation for speaking out against the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown, said the White House is continuing a pattern of dehumanizing and criminalizing migrants and refugees for political gain that began during his presidential campaign.
“Trump and his team of white supremacists rule by pushing propaganda and then using all the tools they have at hand against us, the immigrant community,” Villalpando told Truthout in an email. “This latest attack on refugees is another piece on the war against immigrants they declared since the first day of their campaigning for president of the US.”
Moreover, the Trump administration wants Congress to throw out decades-old judicial decisions that require immigration officers to release children from custody to their parents, relatives and adult caretakers in the US while they await hearings on their immigration status. Officials also want to change laws protecting children from immediate deportation if they hail from countries such as Honduras and Guatemala that do not directly border the US.Trump’s tweets urged Congress to act, and his administration is pursuing legislation that would dismantle protections preventing unaccompanied children from being jailed or quickly deported when they reach the border. Currently, ICE can only detain or jail undocumented children fleeing poverty and deadly violence in their home countries for a few days before handing them over to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Such “catch and release” loopholes, as the White House calls them, have allowed thousands of young people to enter the US, and many do not show up for court hearings on their immigration status, according to the administration’s statement.
Human rights groups and immigration activists say these protections are needed to protect children from being jailed for long periods of time or deported to places where they could face exploitation and violence.
“Refugees have the right to ask countries to take them in,” Villalpando said. “The US and Mexico are part of international agreements that are supposed to be followed and respected.”
Chances that any of Trump’s proposals would make it through Congress are slim. Earlier this year, Trump was unable to strike a major deal with lawmakers over border security and the fate of immigrants brought to the US as children. However, the administration has been using its own executive power to crack down on refugees and immigrants across the country.
Villalpando said that the Trump administration is jailing migrants seeking asylum at the border in immigration detention centers, including a notorious private immigration jail in Tacoma, Washington, that she and other activists are campaigning against.
In addition, Villalpando and a growing list of immigration activists say they have been arrested and face deportation for speaking out against the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants and refugees.
Villalpando, a US resident since 1995, is currently fighting deportation proceedings in Washington State. ICE has claimed that it does not target individuals based on their political activity, but internal records obtained by activists show that immigration officers noted her “extensive involvement with anti-ICE protests” as well as her “Latino advocacy” efforts.