U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday he could send as many as 15,000 service members to the country’s border with Mexico as a migrant caravan makes its way through Mexico on its way to the U.S.
Trump continued to harden his stance on the caravan during remarks to reporters at the White House, saying he could send between 10,000 to 15,000 troops to the border as the group, which originated in Central America, heads north.
There are currently 2,100 National Guardsmen deployed to the U.S.'s southern border to assist immigration enforcement efforts. An additional 5,200 troops would be sent to reinforce efforts, the Pentagon said.
It identified an additional 2,000 that could be deployed, but it is unclear how the upper ceiling the president identified could be met.
Asked earlier Wednesday if the deployment is a political stunt, Defense Secretary James Mattis said "we don't do stunts in this department".
Trump has ramped up his anti-immigrant rhetoric ahead of next Tuesday's midterm elections, targeting specifically the caravan, which he claims is replete with criminals and terrorists. It is over 800 miles (1,287 kilometers) away from the U.S.
Trump denied criticism that he is fear mongering.
"Nobody is coming in. We're not allowing people to come in," he said. "Immigration is a very, very big and very dangerous -- a really dangerous topic."
Trump has threatened to cut off foreign assistance to the three countries where most of the migrants in the caravan originated from -- El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras -- claiming authorities in the countries have not done enough to stop the migrant flow.
After initially saying the U.S. would cut off aid to the Central American countries, Trump appeared to walk back the threat by saying Washington is "thinking very seriously” about “immediately stopping aid to those countries, because, frankly, they're doing nothing for the American people”.
The countries have been hit hard by gang violence and economic woes, leading many of their residents to seek a better life in the U.S.
While Trump has sought to blame Democrats for undocumented immigration, such as the caravan, he has been unable to pass immigration reform legislation during his nearly two years in office despite Republicans holding the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Two immigration bills Trump backed failed in the legislature.
Trump has long promised to build a wall along the U.S.' southern border to thwart illegal immigration, initially vowing to have Mexico pay for it. But Mexico has staunchly refused the suggestion, forcing Trump to seek appropriations from Congress to fund the barrier.
He has yet to be able to fulfill his campaign pledge.