Troops get march­ing or­ders to gird border

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY STEPHEN DINAN

The Pen­tagon an­nounced a mas­sive de­ploy­ment last week of mil­i­tary mus­cle to the U.S.-Mex­ico border, say­ing at least 5,200 troops will soon be on the lines help­ing build fenc­ing, fer­ry­ing Border Pa­trol agents to hot spots and pro­vid­ing sup­port as the gov­ern­ment braces for the mi­grant car­a­van.

The new troops — some of them car­ry­ing their weapons — join more than 2,000 Na­tional Guard sol­diers sent to the border in the spring after an­other car­a­van ex­posed holes in Amer­i­can border se­cu­rity and left the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion con­founded.

None of the troops will be en­gaged in polic­ing, but they will help the Border Pa­trol agents and port-of-en­try of­fi­cers stiffen the lines of de­fense at a time when the gov­ern­ment says it is en­coun­ter­ing 1,900 il­le­gal im­mi­grants a day and is brac­ing for even more in the form of the car­a­vans.

“The pres­i­dent has made it clear that border se­cu­rity is na­tional se­cu­rity,” said Air Force Gen. Ter­rence J. O’Shaugh­nessy, head of U.S. North­ern Com­mand. “That is the di­rec­tion we’re given, that’s the di­rec­tion that we’re march­ing to.”

Home­land Se­cu­rity is call­ing the mil­i­tary mis­sion Op­er­a­tion Se­cure Line. The Pen­tagon is call­ing it Op­er­a­tion Faith­ful Pa­triot.

It ful­fills Pres­i­dent Trump’s de­mand, ex­pressed re­peat­edly this month, that the mil­i­tary take a big­ger role in try­ing to seal off the border to il­le­gal cross­ings.

It’s not clear, though, how much adding thou­sands more troops will do to achieve that goal. The ad­min­is­tra­tion it­self says the border bat­tle is be­ing lost more in the courts than on the field.

Too few lawyers and judges to process cases have built a mas­sive back­log, lead­ing to hun­dreds of thou­sands of mi­grants be­ing caught and re­leased, never to show up for de­por­ta­tion hear­ings.

Court rul­ings lim­it­ing how long the gov­ern­ment can hold mi­grants for de­por­ta­tion, and the lack of bed space to hold them, are also hin­drances.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion is pon­der­ing what it can do, short of a grid­locked Congress reach­ing some so­lu­tions. Op­tions in­clude re­fus­ing to al­low asy­lum claims made by peo­ple who jump the border or quickly re­turn­ing large groups back to Mex­ico.

“That’s an on­go­ing con­ver­sa­tion on how we best han­dle that group,” said Kevin McAleenan, com­mis­sioner of U.S. Customs and Border Pro­tec­tion. “If they come as a large group, we are talk­ing with Mex­ico. We’re also con­sid­er­ing all po­ten­tial op­tions in terms of ad­min­is­tra­tion au­thor­ity.”

Mr. Trump’s crit­ics say de­ploy­ing the mil­i­tary is a pre-elec­tion scare tac­tic.

“The fact is, the car­a­van of asy­lum seek­ers from Hon­duras is hun­dreds of miles away from the U.S. border. It’s no threat to the coun­try, it is shrink­ing in size, un­armed, and filled mostly with women and chil­dren,” said Neera Tan­den, pres­i­dent of the lib­eral think tank Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress.

She said the press was be­ing duped into over­wrought cover­age by the pres­i­dent’s moves.

Im­mi­grant rights ad­vo­cates said those com­ing in the car­a­vans should be con­sid­ered refugees flee­ing ter­ri­ble con­di­tions at home — not il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

“These mi­grants need wa­ter, di­a­pers and ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties — not an army di­vi­sion,” said Shaw Drake, a lawyer who han­dles border is­sues at the Amer­i­can Civil Liberties Union.

But the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion says peo­ple flee­ing Cen­tral Amer­ica have a chance at safety in Mex­ico, which is con­sid­ered a safe coun­try and has made of­fers of asy­lum and jobs to many of the car­a­van’s par­tic­i­pants. While some have ac­cepted, most have re­fused, say­ing their goal is to reach the U.S. to win jobs or to be re­united with fam­ily al­ready in the coun­try, usu­ally il­le­gally.

“The car­a­van has al­ready been offered pro­tec­tions in Mex­ico. You will not be al­lowed to en­ter the U.S. the same way,” Mr. McAleenan said.

He said the lat­est count puts the car­a­van, which broke into Mex­ico a week ago and is head­ing north, at about 3,500 peo­ple. An­other car­a­van of per­haps 3,000 sits on Gu­atemala-Mex­ico border.

Mr. McAleenan said the car­a­van mem­bers are pay­ing smug­glers up to $7,000 per per­son to help them make the jour­ney.

One ma­jor job of the new troops will be to fun­nel the car­a­van to ports of en­try and pre­vent peo­ple from try­ing to sneak around them.

Gen. O’Shaugh­nessy said his troops have 22 miles of ra­zor wire ready and can string up to 150 miles. He also said part of the de­ploy­ment will be he­li­copters with good night sen­sors to spot groups of peo­ple try­ing to sneak into the U.S. and to carry Border Pa­trol agents who can fas­trope down to stop them.

Mr. McAleenan at­tempted to put some specifics to Mr. Trump’s claims of mis­cre­ants and Mid­dle Eastern rad­i­cals among the car­a­vans. The com­mis­sioner said his agency nabbed 17,000 crim­i­nals among the more than 500,000 il­le­gal im­mi­grants en­coun­tered at the U.S.-Mex­ico border last year and that the mi­grants came from more than 100 coun­tries.

Mr. McAleenan did not, how­ever, tie those num­bers specif­i­cally to the car­a­vans, as Mr. Trump did.

Mr. Trump is also re­port­edly con­sid­er­ing a speech on im­mi­gra­tion and the car­a­van — a move that is an­ger­ing im­mi­gra­tion rights ac­tivists.

Frank Sharry, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Amer­ica’s Voice, said such a speech would be “flirt­ing with dan­ger and pro­vok­ing vi­o­lence for the sake of the Repub­li­can Party’s po­lit­i­cal for­tunes.”

White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders told reporters that she was not aware of plans for any such speech.

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