The Pentagon on Friday wouldn't address whether or not its military members currently deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border should be exhibiting more force towards detained migrants, a suggestion made by President Donald Trump earlier this week.
"I would encourage you to talk to the White House" on the president's sentiments, Pentagon spokesman Charlie Summers told reporters during a briefing.
When pressed on the matter, Summers added, "we are in support of direction by the commander-in-chief. And that's simply, that's our role."
Trump on Wednesday said he'll put more troops on the southern border, where members of his administration say the situation is deteriorating with a new influx of migrants. He suggested Democrats are standing in the way of changing "horrible laws" that prohibit the military from getting "a little rough."
"I'm going to have to call up more military," the president said. "Our military, don't forget, can't act like a military would act. Because if they got a little rough, everybody would go crazy."
It was not immediately clear which laws Trump was referring to, or how he'd like to see U.S. troops acting while operating inside their own country. Currently, the federal law known as the Posse Comitatus Act prohibits military personnel from having direct contact with civilians, a provision that keeps the military from acting as a domestic law-enforcement agency.
Changing it would require an act of Congress.
Summers stressed the military remains at the border only to support the Department of Homeland Security, which has the "lead role" on detaining and housing migrants coming across the border.
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Meanwhile, the Pentagon says it has identified a new list of potential military bases that could house children if needed, but has not yet received a new request from DHS to begin housing Central American migrants, a defense department official told Military.com.
No migrant children or families are currently living on DoD bases, the official said on background.
The Army recently awarded nearly $1 billion in contracts to begin construction of 57-miles of new border barriers and the Pentagon is preparing to send more troops to the border if called upon.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told Defense News this week that, given the influx of migrants who are fleeing violence or their governments, more work for troops is likely.
"Strictly on the basis of the volume and how much the situation there has deteriorated, I would expect us to do more," Shanahan said. That could mean setting up temporary shelters, he added, and picking up other requests "consistent with things we've done in the past," he said in the interview.
Trump and Shanahan have not said how many more troops might be sent to the border.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.