White House wants troops to extend stay at border
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.