Barbed wire and Black Hawk helicopters: US troops settle in along border in Texas
By MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE | The Los Angeles Times | Published: November 9, 2018
HIDALGO, Texas (Tribune News Service) — During their first tour of joint operations at the border Friday, U.S. military and Border Patrol officials explained how they were working to overcome space constraints and prepare for caravans of migrants headed north through Mexico.
President Donald Trump has deployed 5,600 service members to the border, half of them to Texas, with nearly a thousand in the Rio Grande Valley, according to their commander, Col. Richard Ball of the 89th Military Police Brigade based at Fort Hood, Texas.
Ball says soldiers have been stringing 4-foot-high concertina wire between border bridges and transporting and storing equipment and supplies with the help of Black Hawk helicopters. They’ve been staying in tents near the border crossing in nearby Donna, where they built a temporary dining hall and bathrooms. An additional 1,300 troops have been sent to California and 1,500 have been deployed to Arizona. The deployment is expected to last until Dec. 15, Ball said.
“We are not here to do law enforcement,” Ball said as he stood alongside U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials at the bridge to Reynosa, Mexico.
Ball said soldiers did not receive special training before deploying to the border, such as Spanish language training, because they will not be on the front line when migrants arrive — the Border Patrol will be.
“We expect to have very little incidental contact,” Ball said.
Raul Ortiz, the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley acting sector chief, said there were 830 agents on standby elsewhere in the country who could be moved quickly to southern Texas should the migrants head that way. He said they had received reports Friday that about 800 members of the caravan had left Mexico City and were bound for Tijuana. But it wasn’t clear what the other migrants would do.
Border Patrol officials have been negotiating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to increase the space and pace for processing asylum seekers ahead of the migrants’ arrival. The Hidalgo crossing has space to process 19 asylum seekers, and has been full lately, officials said. U.S. Customs officials at all major border crossings, including Hidalgo, now use a “queue management” or “metering” system that requires asylum seekers to stop at bridges’ midpoints and wait to be admitted, at times adding their names to a list maintained by Mexican officials.
David Higgerson, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s director of field operations for Laredo, said queue management is necessary due to limited processing space at crossings. He said officials had been conferring with Mexican counterparts to try to expand processing and shelter space. For now, pregnant and elderly asylum seekers are given priority in line, and no one is turned away, he said.
“It’s first come, first served,” said Port Director Carlos Rodriguez as he walked the bridge Friday.