President Trump on Thursday sought to keep the spotlight on his hard-line immigration policies, saying he is "finalizing a plan" to deny asylum claims from people who enter the country illegally.
The White House had signaled the president would be announcing the legally questionable change to the nation's asylum system during a Roosevelt Room event days before the midterm elections.
Instead, Trump announced no new policies, but suggested an official announcement on the asylum plan could come in an executive order "next week."
"Under this plan, the illegal aliens will no longer get a free pass into the country by lodging meritless claims in seeking asylum," the president said in a speech delivered before leaving the White House for a campaign rally in Missouri.
Trump said asylum applications would have to be made at ports of entry only under the proposal.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 says any immigrant in the U.S. may apply for asylum regardless of whether they entered through a legal port of entry. But Trump insisted his plan would be "totally legal."
Any asylum-seekers who are caught crossing the border illegally will be held in tents instead of being released pending a legal hearing, he said.
"We are building massive numbers of tents and we will hold them in tents," he said.
The president's comments were aimed at a caravan of migrants from Central America traveling toward the U.S., which reportedly includes many who are fleeing poverty and violence and seeking asylum. Trump called the caravan an "invasion" that poses a major security threat.
"These illegal caravans will not be allowed into the United States and they should turn back now," said Trump, who has previously suggested the caravan represents a security threat, partly because he says it likely includes "Middle Easterners."
Trump called the provision allowing those seeking asylum to enter anywhere a "loophole" that is a magnet for illegal immigration.
"The endemic abuse of our asylum system makes a mockery of our immigration system," he said.
But he did not provide additional details about his proposal, such as whether the policy would apply to all asylum-seekers or just those traveling in the caravan.
The president has sought to make immigration the signature issue of the midterms in an attempt to motivate his conservative base to show up at the polls.
Trump has largely focused his attention on the caravan, dispatching 5,200 troops to the U.S. southern border even as the group has shrunk in size as it makes its way through Mexico. Trump has said he could send as many as 15,000 service members, more than twice as many people than are walking in the caravan.
Democrats, and some Republicans, have accused Trump of stoking fears by making unfounded claims about immigrants and claiming he would end the Constitution's guarantee of birthright citizenship.
Trump insisted the U.S. remains a "welcoming country" under his leadership, even as he suggested U.S. soldiers could fire on the caravan if provoked.
"I hope there won't be that, but I will tell you this — anybody throwing stones, rocks like they did to Mexico ... We will consider that a firearm, because there's not much difference," he said.
U.S. soldiers are generally prohibited under federal law from carrying out law enforcement duties on American soil.