By W.J. Hennigan
February 6, 2019

The Defense Department said Wednesday it sent about 250 troops to the southern border in Texas ahead of the arrival of a migrant caravan currently in Mexico.

The deployment comes a day after President Donald Trump raised fears over “large, organized caravans” currently “on the march to the United States” in his annual State of the Union address while making the argument for a massive border-wall construction project that has been stymied by Congress.

Responding to the Trump’s call, the Pentagon deployed a Crisis Reaction Force, consisting of military police, medical personnel and engineers, to Eagle Pass, Texas from Arizona. The troops will work with Customs and Border Patrol agents to provide surveillance and help construct barriers for illegal crossings. The U.S. military has been forbidden to take part in domestic law enforcement since the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen asked for additional military forces to reinforce the area where she expected some 2,000 migrants to enter. “Illegal entry will not be tolerated and we stand ready to prevent it,” she said Tuesday in a statement. “DHS will take all steps to ensure the safety and security of law enforcement personnel on the front lines.”

The caravan of impoverished Central American migrants, many of them children, were traveling north through Mexico on 49 buses and have since taken shelter in an abandoned factory located in the Mexican border city of Piedras Negras. Meanwhile, local media in Texas reported that Border Patrol agents, clad in riot gear and shields, wait along bridges on the American side in case they’re needed.

“The lawless state of our southern border is a threat to the safety, security, and financial well‑being of all Americans,” Trump said during the State of the Union speech.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Jim Hecker, Pentagon’s Joint Staff vice director for operations, told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that the military was called upon for help, so it sent a “Crisis Reaction Force.” However, he noted no urgent danger of attack. “I’m not aware of a single terrorist in” the caravan, he said.

Navy Captain Bill Speaks, a Pentagon spokesman, said the new support in Texas “is being provided under existing authorities and in accordance with previously approved requests for support. He added that the Defense Department “continues to work closely with CBP to assess the situation and determine how best to support CBP’s mission needs.”

Since last fall, American forces have strung coils of razor wire atop southern border fences and points of entry with Mexico. The Pentagon has about 2,400 active-duty troops deployed on the current border mission, with plans to boost that by 3,750 later this month.

“Tremendous numbers of people are coming up through Mexico in the hopes of flooding our Southern Border,” Trump posted Tuesday on Twitter. “We have sent additional military. We will build a Human Wall if necessary. If we had a real Wall, this would be a non-event!”

Write to W.J. Hennigan at william.hennigan@time.com.

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