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Pentagon OKs request to send troops to border

Deployment considered ahead of anticipated migrant surge

The Pentagon may soon send around 1,500 troops to the southern border.
The Pentagon may soon send around 1,500 troops to the southern border. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Defense Department is sending 1,500 troops to the U.S. southern border in the coming days to help address an expected spike in migration as a pandemic-era border policy expires on May 11.

The troops would not conduct any law enforcement operations, but instead would assist Customs and Border Protection officers with administrative tasks, freeing up CBP officers to handle the migration influx.

In a statement Tuesday, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III had approved a formal request from the Department of Homeland Security for 1,500 additional personnel.

DHS has predicted that border agents could see upward of 10,000 border crossings daily once the so-called Title 42 border policy expires. The policy, which will expire with the COVID-19 public health emergency, has for more than three years allowed border agents to turn back migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border without considering their asylum claims.

Though the Defense Department’s involvement on the southern border is not new, the use of active-duty troops is notable. Former President Donald Trump also sent active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in 2018, weeks before the midterm elections, in response to a caravan of migrants heading to the border.

President Joe Biden’s plan to send more troops was first reported by Fox News. Once the additional troops are deployed, the total number assisting DHS at the border will be 2,500, according to a DHS news release.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection is investing in technology and personnel to reduce its need for DoD support in coming years, and we continue to call on Congress to support us in this task,” the release said.

According to U.S. Northern Command, the Pentagon has supported civilian law enforcement agencies’ border security activities since the early 1990s, and the scope of that support has remained similar during the George W. Bush, Obama and Trump administrations. 

That support is generally limited to logistics and administrative tasks.  

The potential plans to send troops to the border are part of a slew of efforts by the Biden administration to prepare for an anticipated increase in the numbers of migrants seeking protection. 

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced plans last week to open regional processing centers in Guatemala and Colombia where migrants hoping to come to the U.S. could be prescreened before making the journey to the border to evaluate their eligibility for various forms of protection. 

At the same time, the administration is in the processing of finalizing a policy that would make it harder for migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without authorization, and after crossing through another country on the way, to qualify for asylum.

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