Car­a­van mi­grants won’t see armed U.S. sol­diers

Trump sug­gests fed­eral shut­down over bor­der wall

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

SAN DIEGO — As thou­sands of mi­grants in a car­a­van of Cen­tral Amer­i­can asy­lum-seek­ers con­verge on the doorstep of the United States, what they won’t find are armed Amer­i­can sol­diers stand­ing guard.

In­stead they will see cranes in­stalling tow­er­ing pan­els of metal bars and troops wrap­ping con­certina wire around barriers while mil­i­tary he­li­copters fly over­head, car­ry­ing bor­der pa­trol agents to and from lo­ca­tions along the U.S.Mex­ico bor­der.

That’s be­cause U.S. mil­i­tary troops are pro­hib­ited from car­ry­ing out law en­force­ment du­ties.

What’s more, the bulk of the troops are in Texas — hun­dreds of miles away from the car­a­van that started ar­riv­ing last week in Ti­juana on Mex­ico’s bor­der with Cal­i­for­nia af­ter walk­ing and hitch­ing rides for the past month.

The mi­grants are also fac­ing a back­lash on the Mex­i­can side of the bor­der. Many who have reached Ti­juana said they do not feel wel­come. The mayor has called the mi­grants’ ar­rival an “avalanche” that the city is ill-pre­pared to han­dle, while some lo­cals have shouted in­sults.

It’s a stark con­trast to the many Mex­i­can com­mu­ni­ties that wel­comed the car­a­van with signs, mu­sic and do­na­tions of cloth­ing af­ter it en­tered Mex­ico nearly a month ago.

Still, for many mi­grants the barriers and barbed wire on the U.S. side were an im­pos­ing show of force.

An­gel Ul­loa stood on Ti­juana’s beach where a wall of metal bars more than 20 feet high cut across the sand and plunged into the Pa­cific. He watched as crews on the U.S. side placed coils of barbed wire on top.

A bor­der pa­trol agent wear­ing cam­ou­flage and armed with an as­sault ri­fle — part of a tac­ti­cal unit de­ployed when there is a height­ened threat — walked in the sand be­low where the men worked. A small bor­der pa­trol boat hov­ered off­shore.

“It’s too much se­cu­rity to con­front hum­ble peo­ple who just want to work,” said Ul­loa, a 23-year-old elec­tri­cian from Choloma, Hon­duras, who joined the car­a­van to try to make his first trip to the U.S.

Now, he and his two friends were re­think­ing their plans. They tried to ap­ply for a job at a Wal­Mart in Ti­juana but were told they need a Mex­i­can work per­mit. So they were con­sid­er­ing seek­ing asy­lum in Mex­ico but were un­sure of giv­ing up their dream of earn­ing dol­lars.

“We’re still check­ing things out,” he said.

Mean­while, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump sug­gested Sat­ur­day that he was pre­pared to shut down the fed­eral govern­ment next month if Congress fails to give him the money he wants to build a wall along the bor­der with Mex­ico.

“If I was ever go­ing to do a shut­down over bor­der se­cu­rity — when you look at the car­a­van, when you look at the mess, when you look at the peo­ple com­ing in,” the pres­i­dent said. “... This would be a very good time to do a shut­down.”

The pres­i­dent has asked law­mak­ers for $5 bil­lion for new wall con­struc­tion in fis­cal 2019, but Democrats op­pose the project and a bi­par­ti­san Sen­ate com­pro­mise ear­lier this year in­cluded just $1.6 bil­lion for it.

Dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign, Trump re­peat­edly promised vot­ers that Mex­ico would pay for the roughly 2,000-mile bar­rier, which car­ries an es­ti­mated price tag of $20 bil­lion. But since tak­ing of­fice, he has ac­knowl­edged that Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers will have to put up the cash.

Trump pre­dicted Democrats would stave off his shut­down threat by agree­ing to wall fund­ing.

“I don’t think it’s go­ing to be nec­es­sary, be­cause I think the Democrats will come to their senses. And if they don’t come to their senses, we will con­tinue to win elec­tions,” the pres­i­dent said, re­fer­ring to the Repub­li­cans’ suc­cess in adding to their Sen­ate ma­jor­ity in the midterm elec­tions ear­lier this month.

The mil­i­tary has de­ployed 5,800 ac­tive-duty troops to the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der. More troops are not ex­pected, de­spite Trump’s ini­tial as­sess­ment that 10,000 to 15,000 were needed to se­cure the bor­der against what he has called an “in­va­sion” of mi­grants.

An­other 2,100 Na­tional Guard troops have also been de­ployed since April as part of a sep­a­rate mis­sion. Like mil­i­tary troops, they are not al­lowed to de­tain crossers. In­stead, they have been mon­i­tor­ing cam­eras and help­ing to erect barriers.

Of the 5,800 sol­diers and Marines, more than 2,800 are in Texas, while about 1,500 are in Ari­zona and an­other 1,300 are in Cal­i­for­nia. All mil­i­tary branches, ex­cept the Coast Guard, are barred from per­form­ing law en­force­ment du­ties.

That means there will be no vis­i­ble show of armed troops, said Army Maj. Scott McCul­lough, adding that the mis­sion is to pro­vide sup­port to Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion.

“Sol­diers putting up wire on the bor­der and barriers at the ports of en­try will be the most vis­i­ble,” he said. The Wash­ing­ton Post con­trib­uted.

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