The Department of Defense is reportedly preparing to send 800 active-duty members of the U.S. military to the southern border to assist the United States Customs and Border Patrol in meeting and handling a “migrant caravan” making its way through Mexico.
Military Times reports that “Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will send 800 active-duty troops, not National Guard forces, to bolster the roughly 2,100 National Guardsmen who have already been positioned at the U.S.-Mexico border.”
Border Patrol officials reportedly voiced concerns as to how to handle the migrant caravan, currently snaking its way through Mexico from Honduras. The more than 10,000 migrants are expected to request asylum at a legal point of entry into the United States, somewhere along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Troops stationed at the border won’t be handling asylum requests, however; that will be left up to trained Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Instead, the troops will be performing “administrative duties” and helping to bolster security along the border: repairing fences, handling “technical issues at likely border crossing points,” and providing medical support.
The migrant caravan is still far from the U.S. border — it only just crossed into Mexico after more than a week on the road — and Border Patrol doesn’t expect to come into contact with members of the caravan for some weeks yet. The stream of asylum seekers moves only around 45 miles per day, and still has more than 1,000 miles to go to reach Texas.
But the caravan, which started at around 2,000 members, has reportedly swelled to between 7,000 and 10,000 members, and both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense have voiced concerns that some members of the caravan might not be simple asylum seekers, looking for shelter from gang violence. In previous exchanges with media, Trump administration officials have cautioned that terrorists, members of drug cartels, and violent individuals may be hiding out among the women and children refugees.
Defense Secretary James Mattis authorized the deployment of up to 4,000 troops to handle border issues, but the Department of Homeland Security will have to make a specific request for aid before any active-duty military may be deployed to the border.
The president, however, has signaled his support for a border-based military operation. Last Thursday, President Donald Trump tweeted that he was encouraging the military to come up with a successful strategy to turn away the migrant caravan.
I am watching the Democrat Party led (because they want Open Borders and existing weak laws) assault on our country by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, whose leaders are doing little to stop this large flow of people, INCLUDING MANY CRIMINALS, from entering Mexico to U.S…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2018
He also announced that the United States was prepare to reconsider foreign aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. All three countries receive around $50 million in American aid per year, according to the U.S. State Department.
One likely, but little talked-about scenario has the migrant caravan scattering before reaching the United States’ southern border or disbanding before it reaches its destination. The New York Post reports that at least 500 caravan members have departed the march in recent days, after applying for — and being granted — asylum in Mexico, or accepting the Mexican government’s offer of a free bus ride back to Honduras.