President Trump on Tuesday called the caravan of hundreds of Central American migrants traveling up through Mexico toward the US "very sad" and said he would deploy the military to secure the southern border "until we can have a wall and proper security."
The migrants, who are fleeing violence and poverty back home, have been marching toward the US with hopes of applying for asylum, although Mexico has said it will disband the group by Wednesday.
Speaking at a working lunch meeting at the White House with the heads of state from Baltic nations, Trump said the caravan "makes me very sad that this could happen to the United States,” adding that if it reaches the border, "our laws are so weak and so pathetic ... it's like we have no border."
Trump also said that after discussions with Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the US would deploy troops to the border until there is a border wall and “proper security” in place.
“We’ll be doing things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’ll be guarding our border with the military," he said. "That’s a big step. We really haven’t done that before, or certainly not very much before.”
However, it wouldn't be the first time. President Obama deployed more than 1,000 troops to the border in 2010, as did President George W. Bush in 2006.
Asked later when the deployment would take place, Trump said there would be a meeting on it "in a little while with Gen. Mattis and everybody. And I think that it is something that we have to do."
"Mexico has requested, through official channels, a clarification about @POTUS announcement on the use of the military at the border. The Mexican government will define its position after such clarification, and always in defense of our sovereignty and national interest," Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray Caso tweeted late Tuesday.
Gerónimo Gutiérrez, Mexico's ambassador to the US, made a similar statement in an interview with CNN earlier Tuesday soon after the president's comments: "The Mexican government has formally asked for clarification of the president's statement, both through the State Department and the Homeland Security Department," he said. "Both countries share the idea of having a secure border. We do not always agree on how to achieve that objective."
The Pentagon and US Southern Command did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Trump also took credit for Mexico's decision to disband the group, saying, "I told Mexico very strongly, 'You're going to have to do something about these caravans that are coming up.'"
An official with Mexico’s National Institute of Immigration (INM) told BuzzFeed News their decision to disband the caravan was made unilaterally without influence from the US or Trump.
Some members of the caravan told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday that they are still considering if they will accept an INM offer for a humanitarian visa or the chance to stay in Mexico temporarily.
The president's comments about the caravan began earlier in the day, when he tweeted that the caravan "better be stopped" before it reaches the US border.
"The big Caravan of People from Honduras, now coming across Mexico and heading to our 'Weak Laws' Border, had better be stopped before it gets there," Trump wrote in a tweet. "Cash cow NAFTA is in play, as is foreign aid to Honduras and the countries that allow this to happen. Congress MUST ACT NOW!"
Despite Mexico's pledge to disband the caravan, organizers told a BuzzFeed News reporter traveling with the group that they expect at least some of the migrants to continue north to the US border in search of asylum or some type of protection in Mexico or the US.
"At the end of the day, these people have the right to ask for asylum,” said Gina Garibo, one of the organizers for Pueblos Sin Fronteras, the volunteer group that organized the caravan.