U.S. President Donald Trump will sign a proclamation on Wednesday ordering the deployment of the National Guard to help protect the border with Mexico, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said.
Troops may be heading to the border as early as Wednesday night, Nielsen said, noting that the National Guard would support U.S. Customs and Border Protection but would not be involved in enforcement.
Nielsen spoke at a White House news briefing a day after Trump sharpened his anti-immigration rhetoric by saying he wanted to deploy U.S. military forces until his promised border wall is built.
"The president has directed that the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security work together with our governors to deploy the National Guard to our southwest border to assist the Border Patrol," Nielsen said. "The president will be signing a proclamation to that effect today."
The administration has drafted legislation and will be asking Congress to provide the legal authority and resources to address "this crisis at our borders." Nielsen did not detail the number of troops to be deployed or the cost of the operation.
Trump met with Defense Secretary James Mattis, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Nielsen and other officials to discuss border issues on Tuesday.
"Until we can have a wall and proper security we're going to be guarding our border with the military," Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday, lamenting what he called "horrible" U.S. laws that left the southern border poorly protected.
On Wednesday, Trump said in a tweet: "Our Border Laws are very weak while those of Mexico & Canada are very strong. Congress must change these Obama era, and other, laws NOW!"
Trump's anger followed the initiative of a caravan of Central American migrants trekking across Mexico towards the U.S. border, but the caravan eventually scrapped plans to cross just before Trump officially ordered the National Guard to deploy.
Reports on the caravan had triggered four days of Twitter diatribes from Trump, who threatened to axe the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) if Mexico did not stop the migrants.
Caravan leaders said most of the group – about 80 percent – would now remain in Mexico, where authorities are working with individual migrants and families to get them temporary papers.
"All they want is a place to live in peace, where they can work without having guns pointed at them, without being forced to join a gang," said Irineo Mujica, the head of migrant advocacy group People Without Borders (Pueblo sin Fronteras). A handful of migrants with strong claims for asylum will continue to the US border on their own, he added, praising the Mexican government for its response.
"Donald Trump wanted the world to crush us, to erase our existence. But Mexico responded admirably and we thank the government for the way it handled this caravan," he told AFP in the town of Matias Romero, in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.