President Donald Trump on Thursday announced a plan to change U.S. asylum rules, as he seeks to use a group of Central American migrants heading for the U.S. border as part of his closing argument to voters ahead of the midterms.
He also suggested that U.S. troops the U.S.-Mexico border could fire on someone in the migrant caravan if the person throws rocks or stones at them.
Asked if he envisions U.S. troops firing upon anyone in the groups of migrants, Trump told reporters at the White House: "I hope not, I hope not -- but it's the military."
"I hope there won't be that," Trump said, but that anybody throwing rocks or stones will be considered to be using a firearm, "because there's not much difference when you get hit in the face with a rock."
Trump has focused increasingly on immigration heading into the final days of the midterms, as Republicans across the country struggle to match their opponents in drumming up voter enthusiasm.
Trump did not release details on the asylum proposal or how it would be implemented. According to a White House aide, the administration will seek to require migrants to request asylum at legal points of entry, and prevent them from claiming asylum if they are caught crossing the border illegally. The President said he would sign an immigration-related executive order next week, but was not specific as to what it would address.
The Trump administration has been looking at ways to limit the number of asylum seekers.
The Immigration and Nationality Act states that anyone who arrives in the U.S. "whether or not at a designated port of arrival" may apply for asylum if he or she has a "well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion."
Earlier this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that victims of gang and domestic violence no longer qualify for asylum.
"Asylum was never meant to alleviate all problems, even all serious problems, that people face every day all over the world," Sessions said in June.
As attorney general, Sessions has broad power over asylum procedures and the immigration courts, which are under the auspices of the Justice Department.
He has also suggested that those claims should be rejected even before asylum seekers appear before a judge and begin court proceedings and that the simple fact of crossing the border illegally could also be a factor in rejecting an asylum claim.
CNN reported earlier this week that the administration is also considering a plan to limit the number of migrants able to enter at legal ports of entry by "metering," essentially creating a waitlist to allow people to enter only if the Department of Homeland Security has the capacity to process and detain them at one of its facilities, a DHS official said.
In the past, the practice of metering has resulted in individuals deciding not to endure a lengthy wait to try to get into the country legally and instead to cross illegally. Should some of this group of migrants do the latter, they could face a tougher and higher standard for seeking asylum under the administration's plans.
White House aides had considered having Trump deliver an immigration speech earlier in the week, but the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre on Saturday delayed those plans.