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Kirstjen Nielsen, James Mattis: Troops to stay on Mexico border

November 20, 2018

The Trump administration says there is no timetable for the 5,900 troops at the border being withdrawn, undercutting a general who said Monday that he was beginning to draw down troops this week and expected all of them would be home by mid-December.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, standing at the border in San Diego, said she’s spoken with Defense Secretary James Mattis and said the military will remain involved as long as needed to deal with the problem, which right now includes thousands of migrants from the illegal immigrant caravan camped in Tijuana, eyeing the U.S. side.

“I have no doubt that DOD will continue to be our partners in this mission until it is resolved,” she said.

The Pentagon also disclosed a price estimate for the deployment Tuesday, saying the 5,900 troops now in the region will cost $72 million to keep them there through Dec. 15.

It’s noteworthy the Pentagon gave that date because a day earlier Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, who is overseeing the deployment, had said he expected all the troops to be home by then and that some, who have already completed their missions, will be coming him in the next days.

U.S. Army North quickly contradicted that prediction in a statement.

“No specific timeline for redeployment has been determined. We will provide more details as they become available,” the command said in a statement.

The command said they may shift troops around, particularly to bolster efforts in California, where thousands of members of the migrant caravan are camped just on the other side of the border in Mexico.

After some migrants climbed atop, or even over, the border wall on the beach in San Diego, Homeland Security has rushed to fortify the line. Razor wire has been added to discouraged attempts, and Ms. Nielsen vowed a tough deportation stance though after a judge’s ruling earlier in the day, she can no longer refuse illegal immigrants who make asylum claims.

The asylum policy and the troops at the border were the two most prominent steps this administration has taken to try to combat the caravans of Central Americans that have streamed north this fall.

The administration bungled its response to a caravan in the spring, and Mr. Trump vowed a get-tough approach this time, including suggesting as many as 15,000 troops would be sent to the border.

Officials said, though, that the current 5,900 number is likely the peak.

And while they are helping support Homeland Security, the troops are not engaged in actual enforcement.

Immigrant-rights advocates have denounced the troop commitment and call for a speedy withdrawal.

Ned Price, a former official on President Obama’s National Security Council, pointed to Mr. Trump’s relentless commenting on the caravan ahead of the election, compared to far less presidential oxygen expended after the voting was done.

“It is clear that the deployment was needlessly done to score political points,” he said on Monday. “Migrants at the border can be processed orderly and safely as asylum seekers it’s what we’ve always done. These caravans do not pose the risks that the president claims they do.”

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