President Joe Biden’s administration will send 1,500 active-duty troops to the U.S. border with Mexico beginning next week, ahead of a predicted migrant surge after the end of pandemic-era coronavirus restrictions.
Personnel in the military will perform warehouse support, data entry, and other administrative tasks, so U.S. Customs and Border Protection can focus on fieldwork, according to Karine Jean-Pierre, White House spokeswoman, on Tuesday. The troops “will not be performing law enforcement functions or interacting with immigrants or migrants,” said Jean-Pierre. “This will free up Border Patrol agents to perform their critical law enforcement duties.”
Personnel will be deployed for 90 days and pulled from the Marine Corps and Army. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will look to backfill with Reserve and National Guard troops during that period, according to Pentagon spokesman and Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder. Currently, there are already 2,500 members of the National Guard on the border.
The Covid-19 restrictions have allowed United States officials to turn away several thousand migrants crossing the southern border; however, those restrictions will be lifted on May 11, and officials at the border are bracing for a surge.
Amid the restrictions, the administration has seen many individuals crossing the border. The president has responded by cracking down on those crossing the border illegally and creating new pathways to offer other options to an often deadly and dangerous journey.
For President Biden, who announced his reelection campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in 2024, the decision attempts to signal his administration is taking the number of illegal crossings seriously. The southern border is set to be a significant source for GOP attacks. However, the move could also draw unwelcome comparisons to former President Donald Trump from more progressive Democrats. Biden has frequently criticized the former president’s border policy.
Former President Trump deployed active-duty troops to the Mexico border to help assist border patrol personnel in processing the enormous migrant caravans and National Guard forces already working in the same capacity.
Jean-Pierre played down any similarity between the president’s immigration management and former President Trump’s use of troops during his term in office. “DOD personnel have been supporting CBP at the border for almost two decades now,” said Jean-Pierre. “So, this is a common practice.”
However, some in the president’s own party objected to the decision
“The Biden administration’s militarization of the border is unacceptable,” said Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations chair. “There is already a humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere, and deploying military personnel only signals that migrants are a threat that require our nation’s troops to contain. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
U.S. officials will open centers outside the U.S. in Columbia and Guatemala
Last week, officials with the administration announced they would work rapidly to screen migrants seeking asylum at the border and quickly deport those deemed unqualified while penalizing individuals who illegally cross into the United States or illegally through another country while traveling to the U.S. border.
Officials will also open centers outside the United States for people fleeing poverty and violence to apply to fly in legally and settle in Canada, Spain, or the United States. The first processing centers will be located in Columbia and Guatemala, with others expected to follow.
On Tuesday, the Pentagon approved the Department of Homeland Security request for troops. The department is in charge of managing the border.
However, deployments have a catch: Homeland Security had to agree to work with Congress and the White House to develop a plan for funding shortfalls and longer-term staffing solutions as a condition for Austin’s previous approval to send National Guard troops to the border through October 1.
According to Pentagon spokesman Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Devin Robinson, the move is meant “to maintain border security and the safe, orderly, and humane processing of migrants that do not involve the continued use of DOD personnel and resources.”
As part of the agreement, the Pentagon requested quarterly updates from Homeland Security on how to staff the border mission without service members. It isn’t immediately apparent if updates have occurred or if border officials can meet the agreement terms — particularly under the potential strain of another expected migrant surge.
Homeland Security said it is working on the situation. “U.S. Customs and Border Protection is investing in technology and personnel to reduce its need for DOD support in coming years, and we continue to call on Congress to support us in this task,” said a statement from the agency.