Caravan migrants won’t see armed U.S. soldiers
Trump suggests federal shutdown over border wall
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.