US President Donald Trump has given troops permission to use lethal force if needed at the border with Mexico, adding that there could be a government shutdown next month over border security.
Trump’s statements come just one day after US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he had been granted authority to allow troops to exhibit greater power to help protect border officials.
Around 5,800 active duty troops have been sent to the US-Mexico border to bolster defenses ahead of the expected arrival of a migrant caravan consisting mostly of Hondurans.
It comes just days after a judge temporarily blocked Trump’s order to ban Central American migrants who entered the US illegally from applying for asylum. The US president has repeatedly referred to the migrant caravan as an “invasion” and argued that it contains “hardened criminals.”
Earlier this month, Trump went so far as to state that when migrants throw rocks at border agents, they should consider it the same as a firearm attack.
“When they throw rocks like they did at the Mexico military police, consider it a rifle,” he said.
However, he tried to walk back that statement the very next day, saying that if agents or soldiers “are going to be hit in the face with rocks, we’re going to arrest those people. That doesn’t mean shoot them.”
The order to allow the military to use lethal force will likely be challenged in court, with activists saying it would violate the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act which bars active military from engaging in domestic law enforcement. However, military force is allowed to be used on US soil to “suppress insurrection or to enforce federal authority,” according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.
The migrant caravan currently consists of around 4,000 to 6,000 people, many of whom are camped in the Mexican border city of Tijuana, some sleeping on dirt fields and under bleachers inside a sports complex.
Residents of Tijuana have staged protests against the new arrivals, leading to riot police having to step in. Many residents shouted “No to the invasion!” and “Mexico first!”