WASHINGTON — The White House said Tuesday night that President Trump planned to deploy the National Guard to the southern border to confront what it called a growing threat of illegal immigrants, drugs and crime from Central America after the president for the third consecutive day warned about the looming dangers of unchecked immigration.
Mr. Trump’s advisers said Monday that he was readying new legislation to block migrants and asylum seekers, including young unaccompanied children, from entering the United States, opening a new front in the immigration crackdown that he has pressed since taking office. But in remarks on Tuesday that caught some of his top advisers by surprise, he suggested the more drastic approach of sending in the military to do what immigration authorities could not.
Speaking to reporters during a news conference with the presidents of three Baltic nations, Mr. Trump described existing immigration laws as lax and ineffective, and called for militarizing the border with Mexico to prevent an influx of Central American migrants he said were ready to stream across it.
“We have horrible, horrible and very unsafe laws in the United States,” Mr. Trump said. “We are preparing for the military to secure our border between Mexico and the United States.”
While the president couched his idea as an urgent response to an onslaught at the nation’s southern border, the numbers do not point to a crisis. Last year, the number of illegal immigrants caught at the border was the lowest since 1971, said the United States Border Patrol. Still, Mr. Trump seized on what has become an annual seasonal uptick in Central American migrants making their way north to make his case.
After the president’s remarks, White House aides struggled for hours to decipher his intentions.
Late in the day, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said Mr. Trump had met with Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense, and members of the national security team to discuss his administration’s strategy for dealing with “the growing influx of illegal immigration, drugs and violent gang members from Central America,” a problem on which she said the president had initially been briefed last week.
That strategy, she said, included mobilizing the National Guard — though Ms. Sanders did not say how many troops would be sent or when — and pressing Congress to close what she called “loopholes” in immigration laws. Also present at the meeting were Jeff Sessions, the attorney general; Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security; Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff.
Mr. Trump first began raising new dangers posed by immigration in a series of confusing tweets and public statements that started Sunday and continued on Monday. That prompted White House officials to organize a conference call on Monday afternoon to outline a detailed legislative push they said the president was starting for the new immigration restrictions. Deploying the National Guard was not mentioned during the call.
The announcements on Monday and Tuesday appeared to be more about…