Pentagon to pull 1,100 active-duty troops from the US-Mexico border by Aug. 8
Stars and Stripes August 1, 2023
WASHINGTON — More than 1,000 active-duty troops deployed at the U.S.-Mexico border in response to an expected surge in migrant crossings will end their mission by Aug. 8, a defense official said Tuesday.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered 1,500 active-duty troops deploy in May for a 90-day mission at the border. Troops were assigned support roles to federal law enforcers such as data entry and warehouse tasks until Customs and Border Protection officials could address their needs through other contracted workers, Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, said at the time.
Roughly 1,100 troops will conclude their 90-day mission next week and the other 400 troops will remain on the border until Aug. 31, according to a defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The troops were deployed as part of the federal government's preparations for the lifting of a public health policy on May 11 enacted during the coronavirus pandemic. Known as Title 42, the policy allowed U.S. border officials to quickly turn away migrants crossing the border from Mexico for fear that they would spread the virus.
In the days leading up to the end of Title 42, border agents were encountering 10,000 migrants a day and, at one point, had 27,000 migrants in custody. In June, the first full month after the new policies took effect, Customs and Border Protection said migrant encounters were down 30% from the month prior and were at the lowest levels since President Joe Biden’s first full month in office.
Active-duty troops being sent home comes at a time when the immigration policies of the Biden administration face challenges in court. A federal judge last week blocked immigration authorities from denying asylum to migrants who arrive at the southern border without first applying online or seeking protection in a country from which they traveled.
In addition, the Justice Department last week announced it has sued Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to force the state to remove floating buoys in the Rio Grande that the federal government contends are a humanitarian and environmental concern.
Abbott said he will not order the floating buoys to be removed.
"Texas will fully utilize its constitutional authority to deal with the crisis you have caused," Abbott wrote in a letter to Biden. "Texas will see you in court, Mr. President."
The removal of active-duty troops from the border does not impact an additional 2,300 National Guard troops under federal orders who remain at the border in similar support roles, said Army Gen. Dan Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau. The mission for those troops will not be extended, but other units will be rotated in to replace them when their deployments end.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.