President Donald Trump on Thursday said that he will sign an extensive executive order requiring asylum-seekers to present themselves at a port of entry.
In a television speech full of tough rhetoric designed to fire up right-wing voters for the midterms, he also said that he would hold the Central American refugees in tent cities while their legal cases are being heard, which could take several months or longer.
In both cases what Trump is threatening to do may be a violation of the laws of the United States.
For this president the laws don’t matter, but the politics do. The substance and the timing of his remarks were designed to impact the midterms, so the legality of what he is proposing is not an issue.
“We’re not releasing them into our country any longer. They’ll wait,” Trump said. “We’re putting together massive cities of tents. We’re going to hold them right there.”
Trump said his presidential order was necessary to protect the United States from the thousands of migrants who are traveling north in a caravan. “This is an invasion,” Trump declared.
He also said the more than 5,000 military troops that are assigned to “harden” the border will consider a rock thrown by a migrant “as a firearm.” And he said that U.S. troops should react as though the rocks were “rifles.”
Although most people were appalled at the thought of troops firing on unarmed refugees, for Trump supporters such suggestions are red meat. Talking tough about poor migrants not only gets his supporters fired up but also strengthens their loyalty to the president. He is doing what his supporters want him to do, and they love him for it.
Yet his comments suggest that the U.S. military or law enforcement could be forced to engage in lethal activity that was not part of the original plan. The Pentagon has previously said they would just play a support role.
Trump justified his plan to incarcerate asylum seekers by saying that their asylum legal cases can take years to complete. He also said that the problem is that many asylum seekers never show up for court dates and disappear into the fabric of the country. Immigration experts however, dispute this.
Trump also said his proposed moves are “totally legal,” but this does not appear to be the case.
U.S. immigration laws make clear that migrants seeking asylum may do it “at or between border crossings.” But Trump said he would limit them to using official crossing points.
The U.S. also doesn’t have space at the border to manage the large-scale detention of migrants, with most facilities at capacity. Trump said the government would erect “massive tents” instead. “We’re going to catch, we’re not going to release,” he said.
“This is totally legal,” Trump added. “You don’t have to release. You can hold. The problem is to hold people you need massive facilities.”
“I don’t want them in this country,” Trump said of the thousands of migrants working their way north. “Women don’t want them in this country,” he added.
But most people realize Trump has other motives.
“He’s really trying to scare the American public into thinking these are thousands of dangerous thugs,” said Greg Chen, of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “It’s a classic strategy.”