(CN) - In a lengthy speech that at times verged on being a diatribe, President Donald Trump said Thursday that asylum seekers must stop making a "mockery" of U.S. immigration laws and must go to ports of entry in order to make a claim.
"We won't allow mass uncontrolled immigration," Trump said. "There's a limit to how many people a nation can allow into their society."
Claiming illegal immigration costs the United States “billions and billions” each year, the president warned those travelling in the caravan to “turn back now.”
“You’re wasting your time,” he said Thursday, adding that those who try to enter illegally will not be granted asylum based on “meritless claims.”
“Asylum is not a program for those living in poverty. It’s a special protection intended only for those fleeing government persecution based on race, religion and other protected status,” he said. “These people are drawn to our country by Democrat-backed laws and left wing judicial rulings.”
Trump also said he would likely deliver an executive order which would outline proposed asylum restrictions “sometime next week.”
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, migrants claiming asylum are allowed to do so at the border crossings, but also if they cross illegally.
Trump reiterated that he wanted to set up "tent cities" to hold people coming to the U.S., including those seeking asylum.
But there currently is not enough detention space to hold families who are coming across the border. The military is working to create space, but nothing has been finalized. And laws prevent children from being detained beyond 20 days.
The president also repeated a number of unsubstantiated claims, including that the much-discussed caravan approaching the U.S. border has overwhelmed and injured Mexican police.
There are now four caravans headed toward the U.S. and the closest one to the U.S. border with Mexico is estimated to contain roughly 4,000 travelers, a decline from estimates earlier this week that pegged the group at more than 7,000, according to the Associated Press.
Those migrants are on foot and as of Thursday afternoon, are still in southern Mexico, hundreds of miles from the United States southern border.
Another smaller group is roughly 200 miles behind them and there are 1,000 individuals estimated to be in that group. A third caravan of 500 people has also made the trek from El Salvador to Guatemala and a fourth group is San Salvador, El Salvador’s capitol city, on Wednesday.
Lamenting the slow backlog of immigration cases queued up in U.S. immigration courts, Trump said those migrants who attempted to cross on the basis of asylum would not be granted entry but instead, would be housed in tent cities just beyond the border.
Often when asylum seekers are admitted entry to the U.S., Trump said, they “never show up” for their hearings.
“We know where a lot of them going and they’re going to be deported,” Trump added.
The president also cast doubt on the veracity of those who claim asylum, saying that the government of Mexico offered “asylum, jobs and medical care for those inside the caravan,” as travelers began appearing.
“Many have refused these offers which demonstrate they are not legitimate asylum seekers. They’re not looking for protection and if they were, they’d get it from Mexico but they don’t want to,” Trump said.
Those migrants who do arrive at the border, he claimed, are using “well-coached language by lawyers and other who want to get fees.”
“They’re given a phrase to read, they’ve never heard it before and they don’t believe in it. It’s a legal statement they read and all the sudden they’re supposed to qualify. But that’s not the reason they’re here,” he said.
In a tweet Thursday, the National Immigration Law Center said of the president’s remarks: “Same hate-filled speech, different day. @realDonaldTrump is doing what he does best: spreading fear and making up lies to distract and divide us. But here’s the truth: he’s desperate.”
Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union immigrants’ rights project, slammed Trump’s comments in a statement.
“President Trump did not announce an immigration policy this afternoon, but repeatedly lied about the asylum system, his family separation policy and his largely unfunded wall,” Jadwat said. "If he plans at some point to prohibit people from applying for asylum between the ports of entry, that plan is illegal.”
Today’s comments, he added, were merely an attempt to “inflame his base in the final run-up to the midterms.
Kica Matos, a spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based Fair Immigration Reform Movement Action group, or FIRM Action, called Trump’s speech Thursday a “cynical political ploy to distract his base ahead of elections.”
“It is particularly appalling, given the wake of hate crimes by emboldened white nationalists. While seeking asylum is legal, keeping children in indefinite detention is not. Keeping families in tent cities is immoral and a threat to our nation’s values. We must remind this administration that we are and have always been a welcoming nation that values all families,” Matos said.
In a phone interview with Courthouse News on Thursday, Amnesty International USA tactical campaigns manager Ashley Houghton said Trump’s approach to families who are seeking safety and security at the border was “cruel and inhumane.”
“It’s breaking international law to do many of the things he claimed, including requiring asylum seekers to go to specific points of entry,” she said. “It breaks international law to refuse asylum at the border and to do illegal pushbacks.”
Houghton also said Trump’s assertion that the throwing of stones at law enforcement would be responded to with lethal force was “particularly cruel.”
“The president has always had a divide-people-against-each-other strategy. He believes the American public will respond to fear with fear and we saw that in the last few weeks, we saw that with the [mailing of pipe bombs] and the two shootings [in Louisville, Kentucky and Pittsburgh].