The Biden Administration will send 1,500 troops to the southern border of the U.S. to support immigration authorities facing tens of thousands of migrants expected to surge into the country once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, U.S. officials said.
At the request of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. service members will be sent on a 90-day temporary deployment assisting Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), the Pentagon announced on Tuesday. The troops will not carry out law enforcement work, but instead perform support duties that will free up CBP agents to detain and process migrants.
Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Pat Ryder said the active-duty forces are expected to begin arriving by May 10 and would come from Army and Marine units. “These 1,500 military personnel will fill critical capability gaps, such as ground-based detection and monitoring, data entry, and warehouse support, until CBP can address these needs through contracted support,” he told reporters at the Pentagon.
The Defense Department opted to initially deploy active-duty troops because it was the quickest option, Ryder said, but will look to replace them with National Guard, reserve forces or contractors as time goes on. “We are looking at and evaluating options should we be able to replace them in-stride,” he said.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Sunday the government is bracing for a record tide of migration across the southwest border when pandemic restrictions, known as Title 42, end on May 11. The Trump-era authorities prevented migrants from requesting asylum and allowed U.S. border agents to quickly expel migrants out of public-health concerns.
Mayorkas emphasized the immigration system was stretched thin on resources and made a public case for federal relief.“I just want to be clear that we are working within significant constraints,” he said Sunday on “Meet the Press.” “We need people. We need technology. We need facilities. We need transportation resources—all of the elements of addressing the needs of a large population of people arriving irregularly at our southern border.”
Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Commissioner Troy Miller told Congress last month his agency is preparing for about 10,000 migrant crossings every day once Title 42 ends. President Joe Biden signed an executive order April 27 to call-up active-duty troops to combat international drug trafficking, officials said. The DHS then formally asked for the Pentagon’s support, which Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved on Tuesday.
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Currently, there are about 2,500 troops—members of the National Guard on active-duty orders—deployed along the 2,000-mile-long southwest border supporting CBP’s efforts. For years, U.S. forces have monitored “Mobile Surveillance Cameras” in all nine border sectors in each of the four states bordering Mexico. The devices are armed with infrared cameras, enabling service members to watch for illegal border crossings day or night.
If the new troop deployments extend beyond the 90 days it will likely raise questions on Capitol Hill. The Pentagon has supported DHS on the border every year for nearly two decades, but Democrats and Republicans both expressed concern about the military’s entanglement in White House migration policy in 2018 and 2019. The surge in migration at the time prompted the Trump Administration more than 5,000 troops to the border ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections. In the following months the Pentagon was tasked to carry out a wide range of missions for DHS, including aerial reconnaissance, ground surveillance, search and rescue support, medical support, engineering support, helicopter transportation, personnel protection and other needs.
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