US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he would have to mobilise more of the military at the border with Mexico after listening to stories from people attending a Republican fundraiser in Texas about migrants crossing the border.
“I’m going to have to call up more military,” Trump said without elaborating.
The president interrupted his discussion with Republican donors in the city of San Antonio in south-central Texas to bring in reporters to listen to the stories about the border.
“Many, many dead people,” Trump said, referring to migrants who he said had died along the journey.
Trump, who drew sharp criticism for falsely saying during the 2016 presidential campaign that Mexico was sending rapists and drug runners to the United States, said on Wednesday that those comments were tame compared with the stories he had heard since.
Over the last year, Al Jazeera has spoken to many residents along the border who have criticised Trump’s description of the southern frontier. Humanitarian workers in the region have also said that the political climate created by Trump has made doing their work harder.
The president has made immigration a signature issue of his presidency and his re-election campaign. He declared a national emergency over the issue earlier this year in an effort to redirect funding from Congress to build a wall along the US southern border – a move that’s being challenged in the courts.
Last year, Trump sent thousands of troops to the border as large waves of mostly Central American migrants and asylum seekers made their way north.
There are currently about 5,000 active-duty and National Guard troops near the border, though that number fluctuates.
“We support our federal partners,” Pentagon spokesman Army Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Davis said when asked about Trump’s comments.
Trump in February deployed an additional 3,750 US troops to the country’s southwestern border to support Customs and Border Protection agents.
Later that month, Democratic governors of states including Wisconsin, New Mexico and California withdrew their National Guard troops, saying there was not enough evidence of a security crisis to justify keeping them there.
Trump’s comments on Wednesday came as the immigration debate ramps up on the southern border and Washington.
Democrats are reportedly working on bills to address the surge of families entering the US. House Democrats plan to introduce legislation soon addressing the recent waves of Central American migrants reaching the border. Senate Democrats are pursuing multiple tracks, including exploring whether talks with the White House might be feasible.
Democrats accuse Trump of “manufacturing a crisis” at the border by aggressively detaining migrants caught entering between official ports of entry and slowing the processing of asylum seekers, which can take months or longer.
Trump has also moved to cut nearly $500m in aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, whose citizens have trekked towards the US in growing numbers. He has curbed the number of asylum applications that authorities process. He has been blocked by a federal court from forcing refugees to wait in Mexico while their cases are decided. And he has warned he’ll close the southwest border, a threat he’s intermittently eased and renewed.
The US president accuses Democrats of “obstructing”, and refusing “to act”.