US President Donald Trump threatened Thursday to use military force to close the US-Mexican border against an "onslaught" of migrants, stepping up his anti-immigrant rhetoric ahead of congressional elections.
As several thousand Hondurans made their way through Central America toward the US border, Trump blamed Democrats for an "assault on our country by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador" with a caravan "INCLUDING MANY CRIMINALS."
"I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught - and if unable to do so I will call up the US Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!"
Trump has made his call for a wall on the southern border a signature issue of his two-year presidency, but Thursday's tweet storm was especially fierce.
Trump suggested he was even prepared to put at risk the recently renegotiated North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Mexico, the US and Canada, redubbed as USMCA.
"The assault on our country at our Southern Border, including the Criminal elements and DRUGS pouring in, is far more important to me, as President, than Trade or the USMCA," he said.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said that "we are passionate about solving the issue of illegal immigration," and that "our administration is doing a great job on the border."
The president's message was part of a broad strategy to crack down on unauthorized immigrants and tighten rules for legal migrants.
Barely a week goes by without Trump warning about the danger posed by ultra-violent Central American gangs like MS-13, while chants of "build the wall" are a staple of his pre-midterms campaign rallies.
The latest focus is on some 2,000 Hondurans who departed Saturday from the city of San Pedro Sula in a caravan headed for the US border.
It's reported that a first group of several hundred Honduran migrants arrived late Wednesday on the Guatemalan-Mexican border, where they overflowed a shelter in the town of Tecun Uman, leaving many to sleep in the town square or on the street.
Many were traveling with a single change of clothes and little money. Others were carrying young children in their arms.
The group was said to plan to wait for the rest of the caravan to arrive, then cross the border en masse in hopes of overwhelming the Mexican immigration authorities, who have vowed to detain anyone without papers.
In Mexico, hundreds of riot police deployed at a bridge on the border with Guatemala. Guatemala also sent police reinforcements.
Responding to a tweet about Mexico deploying police equipped with anti-riot gear, Trump wrote: "Thank you Mexico, we look forward to working with you!"
Mexico's ambassador to Guatemala, Luis Manuel Lopez Moreno, met with migrants camped out in the border town of Tecun Uman to discourage them from crossing illegally.
"We are offering documented entry to those who have a passport and visa, and to those who do not, documented entry via an application for refugee status, on humanitarian grounds. We will address every case," he told a large crowd of Hondurans gathered on the town's central square.
As for the US border, it remained unclear whether Trump's threat would result in any military deployment.
The president announced plans in April to send thousands of National Guard troops to the border, where they could remain until his promised wall is constructed.
But at least five US states later refused to send the troops amid an outcry over a since-abandoned White House policy to separate migrant children from their parents at the border.