White House wants troops to ex­tend stay at bor­der

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - FRONT PAGE - Bart Jansen and Alan Gomez

WASH­ING­TON – The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is seek­ing to bol­ster se­cu­rity along the south­ern bor­der with Mex­ico by ex­tend­ing the de­ploy­ment of mil­i­tary troops to the end of Jan­uary and adding law en­force­ment staff from other fed­eral agen­cies.

A por­tion of the 5,800 ac­tive-duty mil­i­tary troops sta­tioned along the south­ern bor­der are ex­pected to stay be­yond the ini­tial Dec. 15 de­ploy­ment, but the De­fense De­part­ment was still re­view­ing the re­quest Fri­day from the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity.

DHS for­mally re­quested the de­ploy­ment to be ex­tended to Jan. 31 for “the on­go­ing threat at the south­ern bor­der,” ac­cord­ing to de­part­ment spokes­woman Katie Wald­man. The re­quest is for the num­ber of troops to re­main at about 4,000, ac­cord­ing to The As­so­ci­ated Press. But De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis hadn’t ap­proved it by late Fri­day, ac­cord­ing to the AP. Staffers from both de­part­ments had been dis­cussing the need for a de­ploy­ment ex­ten­sion for weeks.

DHS has also re­quested that law-en­force­ment of­fi­cers work­ing at other de­part­ments across the gov­ern­ment con­trib­ute to bor­der se­cu­rity be­cause Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump “has made it clear that bor­der se­cu­rity is a top ad­min­is­tra­tion pri­or­ity,” Wald­man said.

“In line with the pres­i­dent’s di­rec­tion and given the very real threat we face at the bor­der from po­ten­tial mass mi­gra­tion ac­tions – of course, DHS has reached out for as­sis­tance from part­ners across the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to de­fend our sovereignty, pro­tect our front­line men and women, and se­cure our bor­der,” Wald­man said. “We ap­pre-

ciate all of the sup­port we have re­ceived to date.”

Trump ini­tially or­dered the mil­i­tary de­ploy­ment in late Oc­to­ber when he warned about a pos­si­ble “in­va­sion” by mem­bers of the mi­grant car­a­van cross­ing Mex­ico from Cen­tral Amer­ica.

The troops so far have mainly built bar­ri­ers of con­certina wire and Jer­sey walls around ports of en­try and trans­ported Cus­toms and Bor­der Pa­trol of­fi­cers where needed.

“It comes down to lo­gis­tics is­sues – how many miles of wire do they need?” Mat­tis told re­porters Thurs­day. The ar­eas around the ports are pretty much done, but there could be more work around their flanks, he said.

Ten­sions rose on Nov. 20 when White House chief of staff John Kelly au­tho­rized the troops to use lethal force, if nec­es­sary, to de­fend them­selves or any CBP agents who came un­der at­tack by mi­grants. That or­der has been ques­tioned be­cause it fol­lowed Trump’s com­ments sug­gest­ing that troops could fire upon mi­grants if they throw rocks at the troops.

“I told them to con­sider it a ri­fle,” Trump said dur­ing a White House speech Nov. 1. “When they throw rocks like what they did to the Mex­i­can mil­i­tary and po­lice I say con­sider it a ri­fle.”

About 1,000 mi­grants clashed Sun­day with CBP of­fi­cers at the San Ysidro port in Cal­i­for­nia. Ad­vo­cates for the mi­grants crit­i­cized the use of tear gas in dis­pers­ing the crowds. But Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials de­fended the use of gas as the least in­tru­sive way to deal with mi­grants throw­ing rocks and bot­tles at of­fi­cers. No shots were fired. The port also closed tem­po­rar­ily.

Mat­tis said those clashes were with CBP – not the mil­i­tary.

“As far as the use of force, the Bor­der Pa­trol is us­ing what they be­lieve is ap­pro­pri­ate,” Mat­tis said.

The troop de­ploy­ment has been crit­i­cized as a po­lit­i­cal stunt be­cause Trump an­nounced it while cam­paign­ing around the coun­try in the fi­nal weeks lead­ing up to the midterm elec­tions. That led to ac­cu­sa­tions he was us­ing the troops as a po­lit­i­cal prop in a bid to en­er­gize the Repub­li­can base.

The Pen­tagon es­ti­mated at the time that about 800 troops would go down in a purely sup­port role – string­ing con­certina wire and help­ing CBP of­fi­cials with trans­porta­tion and lo­gis­ti­cal help. But that de­ploy­ment quickly ex­panded to more than 5,800 troops de­ployed through­out the bor­der.

The lethal force or­der also calls into ques­tion whether the ac­tive-duty troop de­ploy­ment vi­o­lates the Posse Comi­ta­tus Act, which gen­er­ally for­bids the mil­i­tary from con­duct­ing law en­force­ment du­ties within the U.S.

A Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice re­port in April con­cluded that the mil­i­tary can be de­ployed do­mes­ti­cally, but only if it is lim­ited to “cer­tain types of sup­port” to law en­force­ment, such as con­duct­ing aerial sur­veil­lance, op­er­at­ing equip­ment, shar­ing in­tel­li­gence and pro­vid­ing ad­vice. But the re­port said the ad­min­is­tra­tion would run into le­gal trou­ble if it tasked the mil­i­tary with con­duct­ing law en­force­ment ac­tiv­i­ties.

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