President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that to send additional U.S. troops to the southwestern border with Mexico — and he indicated he wants service members to do more than just build physical barriers.
"I'm going to have to call up more military," Trump told reporters in Texas. "Our military – don't forget – can't act like a military would act. Because if they got a little rough, everybody would go crazy."
The president did not explain what constraints on U.S. military behavior he was referring to apart from a vague mention of "all these horrible laws" he accused Democrats of refusing to change.
"I think they will pay a very big price in 2020 for all of the things, whether it is the fake witch hunt they start out, or whether it is a situation like this," he continued. "I think the border is going to be an incredible issue."
White House officials did not immediately respond to Task & Purpose questions about whether the president wants to expand the U.S. military's mission on the border to include law enforcement.
So far, the Pentagon has not received any request from the Department of Homeland Security for additional active-duty troops to support border and customs personnel on the U.S.-Mexico border, defense officials said.
Trump's latest comments come amid news reports that civil authorities are being overwhelmed by the number of migrants trying to cross into the United States from Mexico. In March alone, U.S. immigration officials apprehended or turned back more than 100,000 migrants along the southwestern border, CBS News reported on Tuesday.
The president's rising anger about the rising number of Central Americans attempting to cross the border and apply for asylum reportedly culminated in former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's resignation on Sunday.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Wednesday that troop deployments to the border could last beyond this year.
"That's one of the things that the chairman and I have talked quite a bit about," Shanahan told reporters outside the Pentagon. "What I would say is as the situation there deteriorates, it's pretty elastic in terms of demand on us, so I would expect shortly here to have another request for assistance."
Shanahan has already approved a request from the Department of Health and Human Services to identify which Defense Department facilities could be used to lodge up to 5,000 unaccompanied migrant children this fiscal year if needed, said Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis.
"At this point, there are no requests for housing," Davis said. "DoD is working with the military services to identify potentially suitable locations for such support to HHS."