U.S. authorities have no intention of shooting migrants attempting to enter the country as part of the caravan making its way north, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said.
“We do not have any intention right now to shoot at people, but they will be apprehended, however,” Nielsen told Fox News’s Martha MacCallum on Thursday. She added that she takes the safety of American border authorities “extraordinarily seriously,” and “they do have the ability of force to defend themselves.”
President Donald Trump has been fanning election-season fury about the caravan for weeks, declaring a “national emergency” that requires active-duty troops to secure the border and plotting an executive order that would bar asylum seekers from entering the country. He has falsely claimed the caravan is stocked with criminals, gang members and Middle Eastern terrorists, and has threatened to cut off aid to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, the countries where most of the migrants hail from.
Whether military troops would shoot back if migrants fired at them, Nielsen said, is something the government will “have to work through.” The troops would assist with border patrols, meaning their weapons would be intended for self-defense, officials told CNN.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reportedly plans to send at least 800 Army troops to the border in response to Trump’s order. The caravan of thousands of migrants, which originated in Honduras, is expected to reach the U.S.-Mexico border within days.
U.S. law allows people in the caravan to legally enter the country with a claim for asylum, even though the Trump administration has clamped down on how many asylum applications it processes daily. And even if migrants pass the first step in the process ― an interview to determine whether they have a credible fear of returning to their home country ― they will likely be detained while their cases are being processed.
The backlog of asylum cases already nears 800,000, meaning it could take many years before a decision on new asylum claims.