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US sends 160 troops to border over ‘Remain in Mexico’ ruling

Those deployed at California, Texas ports will support CBP officers, not conduct immigration enforcement, agency says

Customs and Border Protection announced Friday that 160 active-duty troops will be deployed to two southern ports of entry in response to recent court rulings over the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy and the potential threat of the coronavirus.

The agency said 80 troops will be deployed to the Paso del Norte Port of Entry in El Paso, Texas, and another 80 troops to a port of entry outside of San Diego in San Ysidro, California, senior CBP officials told CQ Roll Call. 

The troops “will provide military police support, engineer, and aviation support” to CBP officers processing migrants, according to an agency spokesperson.

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The California-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Feb. 28 that the Remain in Mexico policy — formally known as Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP — was “invalid in its entirety” because of its inconsistency with U.S. statutory law and “should be enjoined in its entirety.” 

The appellate court hours later stayed that injunction as the Trump administration appealed. Then, earlier this week, the court ordered the injunction to remain in place – but after March 11 and only in California and Arizona, the two states in the 9th Circuit’s jurisdiction. On Friday, the Trump administration filed an emergency appeal asking the Supreme Court to allow the program to continue. 

[Federal appeals court blocks, then stays, Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ program]

The troops deployed to the border can only legally assist in a support capacity and will not conduct immigration enforcement, CBP said. The agency added it has closed multiple ports of entry, causing disrupted trade and travel routes, to maintain safety and security “due to Friday’s amassment of large groups in Mexico with the potential to forcibly enter the United States.” 

On Thursday, acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan expressed concerns that the latest MPP court ruling would elicit a surge of migrants to flood to the southern border. 

“Rulings like this threaten our progress and incentivizes the smugglers to go right back to exploiting the same migrants that we took out of their hands,” Morgan told reporters during a news conference.

CBP informed congressional staffers of the troop deployment Thursday in an email that was obtained by CQ Roll Call. The agency said it had placed the Crisis Response Force on standby on Feb. 28 “in the event of mass forced entry” and activated the personnel on Wednesday. 

“These actions along with the growing concern of the spread of the coronavirus prompted CBP to officially request the activation of CRF personnel to the Paso Del Norte and San Ysidro Ports of Entry,” the agency wrote in its email. “The employment of the CRF is just one element of CBP’s larger, comprehensive border security effort which ensures the safety and security of all.”

The Trump administration last sent troops to the border in the summer of 2019. In December, the Pentagon’s Inspector General announced an investigation into the legality of the deployment.

Immigration advocates expressed consternation over the newest development, given that any requests to gain entry by migrants and their lawyers were made because a court had declared their placement in MPP as unlawful. Some experts also questioned whether CBP personnel at ports of entry could process a large volume of immigrants. 

“They should have in place a contingency plan for orderly re-admittance to the U.S. in the event MPP is shut down, but apparently instead they want to ‘meter’ them on the way back in,” Theresa Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, wrote on Twitter. “Unfortunately, the type of contingency planning necessary is not usual for this administration.”

Michael Breen, president and CEO of Human Rights First, criticized the administration’s latest deployment.

“Further militarizing the border is a waste of time and resources. Lawyers and judges able to fairly adjudicate asylum cases should greet refugees, not the military,” he said in a statement. “Instead of trying to falsely paint asylum seekers and their attorneys as a threat to the country, Trump administration officials should be working with legal and refugee assistance organizations to bring the dangerous and illegal Remain in Mexico policy to an end.” 

Camila DeChalus contributed to this report.

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