AUSTIN, Texas — About 300 active-duty troops were moved to California during the last few days to bolster border protection as a large caravan of migrants hoping to seek asylum in the United States masses in Tijuana, Mexico, according to the Army.
Troops were shifted from Texas and Arizona to California’s southern border with Mexico after military and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials determined military police, engineering and logistics units were needed to support shifting requirements within that state.
Now, about 1,800 of the 5,600 active-duty troops deployed to the southwest border with Mexico are in California, according to numbers provided Monday by the Army. About 2,400 are in Texas and the remaining 1,400 are in Arizona.
Thousands of Central American migrants have traveled for more than a month to seek asylum in the United States. About 5,000 arrived last week in Tijuana, Mexico, The Associated Press reported. At one point, the caravan had more than 7,000 people.
President Donald Trump tweeted on Monday, “Mexico should move the flag waving Migrants, many of whom are stone cold criminals, back to their countries. Do it by plane, do it by bus, do it anyway you want, but they are NOT coming into the U.S.A. We will close the Border permanently if need be. Congress, fund the WALL!”
Demonstrations on Sunday took place on both sides of the border near San Diego and resulted in officials temporarily closing the San Ysidro Port of Entry. In response to the protests, military engineers moved barricades and military police backed up other law enforcement agencies at the border, according to a news release issued Sunday by U.S. Northern Command.
San Ysidro is one of the busiest ports of entry in the Western Hemisphere, processing an average of 70,000 northbound vehicle passengers and 20,000 northbound pedestrians daily, according to the U.S. General Services Administration. When some demonstrators attempted to cross the border illegally Sunday, Border Patrol agents fired tear gas into the crowds, according to The Associated Press.
The Northern Command statement released Sunday did not further outline troop involvement, but said military personnel “will not be conducting law enforcement functions, but are authorized to provide force protection for Customs and Border Protection personnel and help make sure CBP personnel can perform their assigned federal functions.”
Army Capt. Guster Cunningham III, a spokesperson for the task force on the ground with the Border Patrol mission, said military police only step in after Border Patrol, other federal law enforcement personnel, and state personnel, including National Guard and local law enforcement resources, are utilized “so as to preclude [the Defense Department] being a first line of contact with migrants.”
At this time, Defense Department officials said there’s been no change to plans to have servicemembers deployed along the southwest border home by Dec. 15, as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis outlined in a news briefing on Nov. 21.
Mattis said extending the deployment would be “mission-dependent, situation-dependent.”
Cunningham said he “cannot speculate as to what the CBP may ask in the future. However, DoD continues to refine requirements with the Department of Homeland Security and CBP on a daily basis.”
The National Guard also has about 2,290 personnel along the border in a separate ongoing support mission with Border Patrol. They also are not assigned to a direct law enforcement role, said Army Master Sgt. W. Michael Houk, a spokesman with the National Guard Bureau.
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