WASHINGTON— President Donald Trump backtracked Friday from his suggestion that active-duty military personnel at the U.S.-Mexico border could fire on migrants who throw rocks.
“If our soldiers or border patrol or ice are going to be hit in the face with rocks, we’re going to arrest those people,” Trump said from the White House South Lawn. “That doesn’t mean shoot them. We’re going to arrest them quickly and for a long period of time.”
When asked if he could guarantee that servicemembers would not fire on migrants, Trump replied “I hope they won’t.”
“We will see,” Trump said.
The Defense Department announced earlier this week that more than 5,200 active-duty personnel will be sent to the U.S.-Mexico borer to assist with civilian law enforcement.
During remarks on illegal immigration Thursday, Trump pointed to an incident late last month in which a caravan of migrants from Honduras clashed with police while pushing through the Guatemala-Mexico border.
Some of the migrants threw rocks, which Trump said would not be tolerated by troops along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Although the troops are legally only serving in an assistance role, Trump said that if migrants throw rocks, the military should “consider it a rifle.”
A Defense Department spokesperson declined to address specifics behind the president’s remarks, but emphasized that U.S. troops have the right to defend themselves when necessary.
“We will not discuss hypothetical situations or specific measures within our rules on the use of force, but our forces are trained professionals who always have the inherent right of self-defense,” Lt. Col. Jamie Davis said in a statement given Thursday to various media outlets. “I would also emphasize that our forces are in support of DHS/CBP, who are performing law enforcement activities.”