National security correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.
WHITE HOUSE — U.S. President Donald Trump says more troops will need to be sent to the country’s southern border because too many dangerous people are illegally entering the United States.
“I’m going to have to call up more military. Our military, don’t forget it, can’t act like a military would act. Because if they got a little rough, everybody would go crazy,” Trump, in Texas, told reporters during a meeting ranchers who complained to him about the constant threat from trespassers on their properties.
Former Defense Secretary William Perry, who served under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, rejected Trump’s suggested use of force.
“The U.S. Armed Forces are not hired thugs to be used to ‘rough up’ non-violent civilians for political games, and expressing the desire to utilize them as such disrespects the dignity and honor of our men and women in uniform,” Perry posted on Twitter.
Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan, asked by reporters earlier in the day about a possible multiyear deployment of troops to the border, responded, saying he had been speaking at length about that with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“I would expect shortly here to have another request for assistance,” Shanahan said.
Trump, in San Antonio, specifically blamed the problem on the governments of four countries: Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Colombia.
“Those countries are sending the tough ones, they’re sending the gang members,” he said.
“They’ll kill you, take your truck, sometimes rob your house. Who the hell can live like this?” asked Trump, sitting in a room surrounded by area Republican politicians and property owners.
Trump contrasted the migrants from Central and South America with the now smaller number of Mexicans who cross the border illegally.
“People from Mexico, they come in and help with the farming and they go out, no problem,” according to Trump.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, who returned from a trip to El Salvador earlier this week, objected to Trump’s characterization of those traveling to the United States from Central America.
“People are fleeing countries like El Salvador from violence, corruption, poverty, and persecution. They come to the U.S. to seek a better life for their families and loved ones. Our president shouldn’t be mocking them for it,” Newsom wrote on Twitter.
The president had called a group of reporters traveling with him into the event, which had not been scheduled to be open to them. He also used the opportunity to again express his dissatisfaction with coverage of immigration issues and his quest to erect new fences and walls on the U.S. border with Mexico.
“We ripped down a wall that was dead, it was useless and we built a new one,” said Trump, complaining that “some of them said we didn’t build a wall.”
After explaining that the new portion of wall in Calexico, California, was “my design,” Trump said to journalists: “They’re dishonest people, many of you.”
The president added: “It would be so great if you write a straight story and let the world know.”
Trump added, “Nobody has any idea how bad it has been for many years.”
According to the president, all of the ranchers Wednesday told him they “find bodies lying all over the field, including many pregnant women.”
Blame for not being able to rectify the situation lies with the Democrats, according to Trump, who said there are “horrible laws that the Democrats won’t change. And I think they will pay a very big price in 2020.”
Trump faces a re-election challenge next year. Currently, nearly 20 members of the Democratic Party are seeking to face him in next November’s general election.
The president denied his comments, made with participants who had attended a political fundraising lunch, were campaign posturing.
Trump said, rather, he is publicizing the issue from a humanitarian standpoint.
Earlier in the day, departing the White House for his one-day trip to Texas, Trump said he is the only person in charge of his immigration policy.
The president made the remark when asked about the influence of an aide, Stephen Miller, seen as instrumental in forming the administration’s stance on immigration and border security.
There has been speculation Trump might want Miller to succeed Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who is resigning.
Trump praised Miller, a lightning rod for criticism of the administration’s hard-line stance, as an “excellent guy” and a “brilliant man,” adding: “Frankly, there’s only one person that’s running it: You know who that is? It’s me.”
Trump has selected U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to serve as acting DHS secretary. Asked whether he might nominate McAleenan for the permanent job, the president responded he likes McAleenan “a lot” and it “could happen.”