Pentagon to send thousands more troops to ‘harden’ border

November 20, 2018

WASHINGTON -- The Defense Department says it’s sending 5,200 active duty troops to “harden” the southern border against a migrant caravan making its way through Mexico.

Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy tells reporters that 800 soldiers were en route on Monday and that the remainder of the troops would be at the southwest border by the end of the week.

The move is apparently in response to a caravan of Central American migrants seeking to enter the United States through Mexico, but critics say it may also be an attempt by the Trump administration to appeal to its base ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm election.

Around 1,500 of the troops are headed for California and will begin arriving in the next two days, with the rest slated to go to Arizona and Texas, the officials said.

The Border Patrol is also sending roughly 2,400 additional personnel to work at official entry points in the three states, the officials said. The additional military troops will support their activities.

The higher deployment -- up from the original estimate of 800 -- exceeds the number of U.S. troops currently in Syria, approximately 2,500.

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis was expected to sign an order Monday dispatching the troops.

The rapid timetable of the operation suggests the Trump administration wants to get the troops to the border before the election, even though a caravan of migrants that is moving through Mexico is still hundreds of miles from the border.

“The men and women of the U.S. military work hard to protect us from real threats. It is beyond cynical, and sets a terrible precedent, to exploit them for political stagecraft in the run-up to an election,” said Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy group that focuses on Latin America.

“The migrant caravan is mostly children and families. Most plan to ask for asylum if they make it to the U.S. border, and most will not make it. By the time they get here, the so-called caravan may be just a few hundred people. Unless soldiers are being trained to fill in asylum forms and to care for kids and moms, this is the very opposite of what the U.S. military’s mission is,” he added.

President Trump has seized on the immigration issue ahead of next week’s midterm election, but illegal immigration this year is on pace to be lower than all but four of the previous 45 years.

Trump has falsely claimed that the caravan of migrants heading north toward the border includes terrorists and is organized by Democrats handing out money, despite denials by national security officials.

The troops’ main role will be to transport additional Border Patrol personnel to the southwest border and to provide temporary housing, meals and transportation to the agency, the officials said. They will not be involved in interacting with migrants seeking to cross the border, the officials said.

The Pentagon is sending active-duty troops, rather than National Guard soldiers, because they can mobilize faster and have more aircraft than reservists.

Use of active-duty troops also enables the Trump administration to bypass California Gov. Jerry Brown, who has resisted use of troops along the border in the past.

There already are about 2,000 National Guard troops assisting at the border under a previous Pentagon operation.

Using troops in a support role means they would not violate the Posse Comitatus Act, which bars the federal government from using the military in a domestic policing role.

Update hourly