Washington, DC – Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has vowed to stop the massive migrant caravan from crossing the U.S. border with Mexico, and said she would not tolerate any acts of violence against U.S. Border Patrol agents.
However, she added that Border Patrol agents wouldn't return fire if people in the caravan shot at them.
“This caravan cannot come to the United States,” Nielsen told FOX News on Thursday. “They will not be allowed in. They will not be allowed to stay."
Nielsen said the agency does “not have any intention right now to shoot at people,” but said anyone trying to cross the border illegally “will be apprehended.”
When asked if agents would return fire if they're shot at, Nielsen responded "no," according to The Hill.
“I want to make clear we will absolutely not tolerate violence against Border Patrol in this situation," she added. "I will not tolerate Mexicans or anybody else acting in a violent way towards our men and women on the border."
On Thursday, President Donald Trump tweeted a message directed to the members of the caravan, and told them to go back home.
“To those in the Caravan, turnaround,” he wrote. “We are not letting people into the Unites States illegally. Go back to your Country and if you want, apply for citizenship like millions of others are doing!”
The President also said he was “bringing out the military” to help stop the onslaught of illegal migrants, and called their advancement a “National Emergency,” The Hill reported.
The Pentagon will determine how many military personnel to deploy, and are expected to utilize active duty units as opposed to the National Guard, according to the paper.
President Trump previously expressed concern about intelligence information he has received regarding the presence of MS-13 gang members and criminals within the hoard of migrants.
“Terrorists have highlighted, for many years, the loopholes in our border security, Nielsen told FOX News. “We do know…there are criminals as part of this flow. We do know there are gang members as part of this flow.”
According to international authorities, some members of the group have kidnapped children during the mass movement northward, Nielsen said.
“So, it’s not all people seeking asylum,” she noted.
Nielsen explained that some members of the migrant group might mistakenly believe that reuniting with family members or looking for work in the U.S. constitutes “asylum.”
Nielsen said that migrants who are actually fleeing from violence have been offered the opportunity for asylum by the Mexican government, so continuing on to the United States is not warranted.
"They should be seeking refuge in Mexico," she said. "To ignore, basically, refuge and continue, in some cases, to come to the United States raises questions of what their real motives are."
According to agreements between many bordering countries, asylum-seekers should take refuge in the country nearest their own.
“[There’s] a misunderstanding that if you’re being persecuted, you can live wherever you want, and that’s not what that means,” Nielsen said. “There’s some real asylum cases which we want to help, but others are abusing the system.”
“Given this caravan, given this government’s commitment, if they come here illegally with no legitimate reason to stay, they absolutely will be apprehended and removed immediately,” she said.
When FOX News asked Nielsen how the government is planning to stop the caravan from entering the U.S., she said that “everything is on the table” with regards to the options available, including the potential of cutting aid to three countries where many of the migrants originated from – El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
According to The Wall Street Journal, authorities are also considering the possibility of temporarily sealing the ports of entry along the border entirely.
The United Nations has estimated that the massive caravan has grown to approximately 7,000 people, The Washington Post reported.
The crowd is still about 1,000 miles away from the U.S. border with Mexico, but if they manage to hop aboard freight trains when they reach Arriaga, Chiapas in the next couple of days, the amount of time it would take them to reach the U.S. would be drastically reduced.