WASHINGTON – Just one week shy of the midterm elections, the Pentagon will deploy at least 5,200 active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in an effort to prevent members of a migrant caravan from illegally entering the country, the Department of Defense announced Monday.
About 2,100 National Guard troops already were fanned out across the border under an order from President Donald Trump this year. In recent weeks, the president has been warning repeatedly about the dangers posed by the caravan of mostly Central American migrants, which stands at about 3,500 people after 1,700 of them filed asylum applications in Mexico or accepted assistance to return to their home countries.
Administration officials said last week that they were considering a plan to send up to 1,000 active-duty troops to the border, but that deployment, dubbed Operation Faithful Patriot, will now surpass 5,200, said Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, commander of U.S. Northern Command. He said the number of troops could rise depending on the demands placed on U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents manning the border.
“That is just the start of this operation,” O’Shaughnessy said during a news conference at CBP headquarters in Washington on Monday. “Border security is national security.”
National Guard units have already been assisting by monitoring video surveillance feeds to direct Border Patrol agents manning the vast stretches between U.S. ports of entry. The new deployment of active-duty troops will include helicopter and other aviation units armed with night vision technology to help identify anyone trying to illegally cross the border, and to deploy CBP agents to apprehend them, O’Shaughnessy said.
Typically, migrant caravans travel in numbers to seek safety and avoid risks such as kidnap, rape and extortion. When the last migrant caravan reached the U.S. border in April, a majority of people presented themselves at ports of entry to request asylum, a legal way to enter the United States.
A Homeland Security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because plans were not yet finalized, said the president is expected to deliver a speech this week to outline further actions to halt the migrant caravan, which could include limiting, or halting, the ability of migrants to request asylum. That move would be predicated on national security arguments similar to those used to enact Trump’s travel ban last year on certain individuals from Muslim-dominated countries and would meet the same legal challenges by immigration advocacy and civil rights organizations.
Critics accused Trump of using the Pentagon as a tool in his political game by drumming up anti-immigrant fears to rally his political base in the lead-up to the midterm elections.
“At a moment we need a president that helps the nation heal and unite, we have one that is ripping us apart and using racism, xenophobia and antisemitism as strategic weapons in the run up to the elections,” tweeted Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigration advocacy group.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, who has 16,500 Border Patrol agents along the southwest border, said the additional manpower is needed because the region is in a state of crisis. He said an average of 1,900 people a day have been arriving illegally or without official documents for the last three weeks, straining his agency’s resources to process illegal border crossers and process legal ones.