Trump says he will hold asylum seekers from Central America in massive tent cities

President Donald Trump, in televised address filled with tough election-season rhetoric, said Thursday that he will sign an extensive executive order requiring asylum seekers to present themselves at a port of entry and house them in tent cities until their legal cases are completed.

Trump has made a caravan of several thousand migrants from Central America, including women, children and the elderly as well as men, a central campaign issue as the midterm elections loom Tuesday.

“We’re not releasing them into our country any longer. They’ll wait,” Trump said. “We’re putting together massive cities of tents. We’re going to hold them right there.”

Speaking from the White House’s Roosevelt Room, Trump said the order was necessary to protect the United States from an “invasion” of thousands of migrants who are traveling north in a caravan. He also said the more than 5,000 military troops that are assigned to “harden” the border will consider a rock thrown by a migrant “as a firearm.”

That comment suggests that the military or law enforcement could engage in more lethal activity than the support role the Pentagon has said they will do.

Trump argued that “endemic abuse” of the asylum system has made a mockery of the U.S. immigration system displacing legitimate asylum seekers. He said asylum is meant for those fleeing political repression and not seeking economic opportunity. Instead, he said, they come to the border and use “well-coached language” to trigger meritless asylum claims that are often eventually denied.

Noting that asylum legal cases can take years to complete, Trump said the problem is that many asylum seekers never show up for court dates and disappear into the fabric of the country.

“This is totally legal,” Trump said, adding. “You don’t have to release. You can hold. The problem is to hold people you need massive facilities.”

He added that parents and children would be held together.

If enacted, the executive order would change existing law that currently allows people to seek asylum even if they sneaked across the border.

The order comes amid a renewed push by Trump just days before the midterms to focus on illegal immigration.

He also retweeted a racially divisive political ad that blames Democrats for allowing an undocumented immigrant and cop killer to stay in the U.S. In fact, Luis Bracamontes, was deported under both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. . The ad cut from Bracamontes vowing in court to kill more police to a scene of the current group of migrants walking north.

“I don’t want them in this country,” Trump said of the thousands of migrants working their way north. “Women don’t want them in this country,” he added in a comment that hearkened back to his earliest campaign speeches that Mexico sends its “rapists” to the U.S.

Leon Fresco, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Obama administration, predicted the Trump administration would face court challenges, but that it would still be popular with his base.

“Although it is virtually impossible that any court will allow children to be detained in tent cities for longer than a few days, it is also very likely that the concept of holding all adult border crossers in some type of custody, rather than permitting them inside the United States, will be popular to a larger segment of voters than some would like to admit.”

Like in his 2016 campaign, Trump has made fighting immigration a central theme of his run-ups to the midterms and accused a caravan of thousands of migrants traveling through Mexico on their way north of trying to “invade” the United States.

Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist who worked on Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns, said people accussing Trump of making the proclamation purely for political gain are overplaying its political significance. He noted that many people have already voted in the midterms. He said supporters will appreciate the president’s effort to establish a more orderly process that would make it harder for those trying to take advantage of a generous asylum system.

“He believes he’s responding to the people who elected him,” Jennings said.

Franco Ordoñez: 202-383-6155, @francoordonez