US soldiers and equipment, part of deployment of 5,200 troops on Mexico border, arrive in south Texas, November 1, 2018

Doubling down on his election tactics of stigmatizing immigrants, Donald Trump says US armed forces — more than 5,000 of whom have been deployed on the border with Mexico — can shoot any person who throws a rock at them.

Trump also said on Thursday that he will sign an executive order “next week” to prevent any migrant seeking asylum. And he reiterated that migrants will be put in large “tent cities” in indefinite detention.

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Current US law allows anyone crossing the border to apply for asylum at a port of entry. However, the Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, implemented from April, has enabled the interception and detention of migrants before they reach the ports. Families were broken up, with children separated from parents, before courts intervened this summer.

Scott Anderson, a legal specialist at the Brookings Institution, noted the likelihood that Trump’s measures would violate national and international law.

US treaty obligations require the United States to extend asylum to individuals who qualify as refugees if they are found in the United States or at any US border, regardless of whether they arrived their legally or not. The same treaties also prohibit the United States from expelling qualified individuals or returning them to their country of origin absent certain extraordinary circumstances.

But Trump and his advisors see the attacks on immigrants as a vote-winning strategy, hoping to keep control of both the Senate and House of Representatives. So Trump — despite his language opening up space for recent pipe bomb attacks and last week’s Pittsburgh synagogue shooting — has stepped up his declarations.

He said earlier this week that he will remove birthright citizenship, even though that is guaranteed under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. He repeated the false implication that Jewish philanthropist George Soros is financing a caravan of 3,500 people, many of them women and children, moving through Mexico. He said he may raise the number of troops on the border to 15,000 — larger than the US deployment in Afghanistan.

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Although the caravan — moving on foot — is still six weeks away from the US border, Trump stepped up the prospect of confrontation. He said that anybody throwing rocks or stones at troops will be considered to be using a firearm, “because there’s not much difference when you get hit in the face with a rock. They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back. I told them to consider it a rifle.”

Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Defense Department “will not discuss hypothetical situations or specific measures within our rules on the use of force, but our forces are trained professionals who always have the inherent right of self-defense”.