By Jeff Mason
SANANTONIO (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he would have to mobilise more of the military at the U.S. border with Mexico after listening to stories about migrants crossing the border from people attending a Republican fundraiser.
“I’m going to have to call up more military,” Trump said.
The president said some of the people crossing the border were ending up dead from the journey on Americans’ ranches. He interrupted his discussion with Republican donors to bring in reporters to listen to the stories about the border.
“Many, many dead people,” Trump said, referring to migrants who he said had perished after making the journey. “Also they come in and raid their houses, and it’s very dangerous,” Trump said, referring to locals affected by the influx of migrants.
There are currently about 5,000 active-duty and National Guard troops near the border, though that number fluctuates.
“We support our federal partners,” Pentagon spokesman Army Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Davis said when asked about Trump’s comments.
Trump in February had deployed an additional 3,750 U.S. troops to the country’s southwestern border to support Customs and Border Protection agents.
Later that month, Democratic governors of states including Wisconsin, New Mexico and California withdrew their National Guard troops, saying there was not enough evidence of a security crisis to justify keeping them there.
Trump, who drew sharp criticism for saying during the 2016 presidential campaign that Mexico was sending rapists and drug runners to the United States, said on Wednesday that those comments were tame compared to the stories he had heard since.
“People are dying. Great people are dying. Bad people are coming up. You have both,” he said. “From the time I made my first speech at Trump Tower, when I mentioned the word ‘rape’ and everybody went crazy – because that turned out to be nothing compared to what happens on those journeys up. Nothing. My speech was so tame, as it turned out.”
Trump has made immigration a signature issue of his presidency and of his re-election campaign. He declared a national emergency over the issue earlier this year in an effort to redirect funding from Congress to build a wall along the U.S. southern border.
Earlier this week he announced that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was stepping down. White House officials said he wanted new leadership at the department to focus more closely on what he has called a border crisis.
Trump is in Texas for fundraising stops that Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said would raise some $6 million.
Trump and the other participants at the San Antonio fundraiser emphasized the toll that the trips across the border were taking.
“Let me tell you, we can document well over a thousand dead bodies over the last five to six to seven years. That’s the ones that we find,” said Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick.
Trump said his proposed wall would help.
“If you had a wall, they wouldn’t be able to get through … You know, … you can take them to some place where they can be taken care of. And they won’t come; you won’t have so many – because if they know they can’t get through, they’re not going to come,” he said.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by James Dalgleish)