Troops shuffled along US southern border to counter migrant caravan from Mexico
By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 6, 2019
AUSTIN, Texas — About 250 active-duty troops have repositioned along the U.S. border with Mexico to counter a caravan of about 2,000 migrants that arrived Tuesday just south of Eagle Pass, Texas, according to information in separate statements released by the departments of Defense and Homeland Security.
About 1,600 Central American migrants camped Tuesday in the Mexican border city of Piedras Negras, just west of Eagle Pass, The Associated Press reported. The governor of the northern state of Coahuila in Mexico described the migrants as “asylum seekers,” suggesting all of them had expressed intentions of surrendering to U.S. authorities.
Images from local media showed U.S. agents with riot gear and shields standing on a bridge separating Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras, the AP reported. Homeland Security officials said Border Patrol officers had already apprehended some migrants who crossed the border illegally overnight.
The 250 troops moving to Eagle Pass come from stations in Arizona, Pentagon spokesman Capt. Bill Speaks said Wednesday.
In total, about 2,300 active-duty troops are deployed in Texas, Arizona and California, based on information from the Defense Department. With the agreement for troops to remain at the border through the end of September, an additional 3,750 servicemembers are expected to deploy in the coming days.
The personnel repositioned in Texas includes military police and medical personnel, as well as engineers who will support hardening of these ports of entry, Speaks said. The support is provided under previous requests for assistance from the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection.
“DoD continues to work closely with CBP to assess the situation and determine how best to support CBP's mission needs,” Speaks said.
Additionally, about 2,250 National Guard members are deployed in a separate mission along the border. They were positioned to provide mostly administrative support to Border Patrol in Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico.
On Tuesday, the governor of New Mexico ordered the 118 Guard troops serving in that state to withdraw. Those servicemembers came from New Mexico and five other states.
“I reject the federal contention that there exists an overwhelming national security crisis at the southern border, along which are some of the safest communities in the country,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Tuesday in a statement.
This removal of troops is not expected to impact the Guard mission beyond decreasing the number of deployed troops by about 100, based on information from the National Guard.
Past caravans traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, which borders California. At that time, the Defense Department announced a similar repositioning of troops to counter it. This caravan has chosen a path toward the relatively open border around Eagle Pass—marked mainly by the Rio Grande and lacks the long sections of high barriers found in Tijuana, the AP reported.
Reports show the members of the caravan are being housed in an old factory in Piedras Negras.
The ongoing debate of building a border wall between the United States and Mexico looms in the background of these events. President Donald Trump used a portion of Tuesday’s State of the Union speech to tout the safety of El Paso, crediting the west Texas border city’s transformation to the building of a border wall there. El Paso is about 500 miles west of Eagle Pass.
On Monday, Trump will host a campaign rally in El Paso to further drive home his claims about the city and the importance of a border wall for security.
The president has until Feb. 15 to convince congressional Democrats of this point or face the reality of a second government shutdown over the issue. He also has said to avoid another shutdown, he could declare a national emergency and pull funding to pay for the wall from other government agencies, including the military construction budget.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen described the current caravan as “lawless,” and blamed its presence on Congress’s failure to provide border security funding and fix the immigration system.
“Such caravans are the result of Congress’s inexcusable failure to fully fund a needed physical barrier and unwillingness to fix outdated laws that act as an enormous magnet for illegal aliens,” she said in a statement released Tuesday. “This crisis won’t be solved until we have comprehensive border security. Until then, DHS will do everything in its power — with the assistance of federal and state partners — to hold smugglers and traffickers accountable, enforce our laws, and keep American communities safe.”