WASHINGTON (AP) — The US government will send 1,500 active-duty troops to the border with Mexico starting next week, in anticipation of an expected surge in migrant arrivals when restrictions in place during the pandemic are lifted.
Military personnel will be responsible for data entry, warehouse support and other administrative tasks so Customs and Border Protection can focus on field work, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said. The soldiers “will not perform policing functions or interact with migrants or immigrants,” Jean-Pierre stated. “This will free up Border Patrol agents to carry out their important law enforcement duties.”RELATED
The military, who will complete this mission for 90 days, will come from the Army and the Marine Corps, and the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, will seek to cover the shortfall with troops from the National Guard or Reserve during that period, reported the Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder. There are currently 2,500 National Guard elements stationed on the border.
The COVID-19 restrictions have allowed the United States to turn away thousands of migrants crossing the border, but they will be lifted on May 11, and border authorities are preparing for a very likely increase in the number of arrivals. Even amid the restrictions, the government has seen record numbers of people crossing the border from Mexico, and President Joe Biden has responded with crackdowns on illegal entrants and the creation of new routes to provide alternatives to the dangerous and often deadly journey.
For Biden, who announced his re-election campaign a week ago, the decision shows that his administration is making a serious effort to reduce the number of illegal crossings as a potential point of Republican criticism, and sends a message to those seeking to trespass that do not attempt the crossing. But it can also draw unwelcome comparisons to his Republican predecessor, whose policies are often criticized by Biden himself. Congress, for its part, has refused to push through substantive immigration-related measures.
Former President Donald Trump deployed active-duty soldiers to the border to assist Border Patrol personnel in processing large migrant caravans, in addition to National Guard elements already working in that capacity.
Jean-Pierre played down any similarities between the way Biden handles immigration and Trump’s use of troops during his presidency. “DoD personnel have been supporting CBP at the border for almost two decades now,” Jean-Pierre said. “So it’s a common practice.”
But some members of Biden’s own party objected to the decision.
“The militarization of the border by the Biden government is unacceptable,” said the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Bob Menéndez. “There is already a humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere, and the deployment of military personnel only hints that migrants are a threat that requires our nation’s troops to contain. Nothing is further from reality”.
The decision is another line of defense in an attempt to control crowding and other potential problems that could arise when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Officials last week announced they would seek to expedite the processing of migrants seeking asylum at the border, expeditiously deport those they deem ineligible, and penalize those who cross into the United States illegally or pass through another country without authorization in their way to the US border.
They will also open centers outside the United States for people fleeing violence and poverty to request legal air travel and settle in the United States, Spain or Canada. The first processing centers will be opened in Guatemala and Colombia, followed by others.
The Pentagon on Tuesday approved a request for troops from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which handles border affairs.
The deployments have a catch: As a condition for Austin to approve sending National Guard troops to the border through Oct. 1, DHS had to agree to work with the White House and Congress to develop a staffing solutions plan. longer-term and funding shortfalls, “to maintain border security and the safe, orderly, and humane processing of migrants without involving the continued use of Department of Defense personnel and resources,” said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Devin Robinson Air Force.
As part of the agreement, the Pentagon has requested that DHS provide updates on how it will cover personnel for its non-trooper border mission. It is not known at this time if those updates have been followed or if the border authorities will comply with the conditions of the agreement, particularly in the face of the overload of another possible increase in migrants.
DHS said it was working on it. “Customs and Border Protection is investing in technologies and personnel to reduce its need for support from the Department of Defense in the coming years, and we continue to call on Congress to support us in this endeavor,” the agency said in a statement.
___ Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Rebecca Santana, Lolita Baldor and Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.