Several hundred troops are being sent to beef up security at the US’ southern border with Mexico, the Department of Defense said. It comes as a caravan of several thousand migrants makes it way north through Mexico.
Defense Secretary James Mattis is expected to sign an order sending at least 800 troops to the border in anticipation of the caravan’s arrival, a government source told AP.
The news seems to deliver on President Trump’s repeated warnings that he would deploy the military to the border in some capacity, if Mexican authorities did not do enough to halt the caravan’s advance.
While the president and his predecessors have requested state governors to deploy the National Guard to the border before, as Trump did in April when a smaller migrant caravan tried to cross into the US, he had warned last weekend that he would send in “the military, not the guard.”
Departing crime- and poverty-stricken Honduras two weeks ago, the caravan swelled in number as it approached the US, with the UN estimating it to be 7,000 strong last week. Since crossing into Mexico almost a week ago, the caravan has advanced north to the town of Mapastepec. Authorities there reckon that many of the 7,000 have dropped off, and that the caravan now numbers between 4,000 and 5,000 people.
Mapastepec is still over 1,000 miles from the US, a journey of several weeks for the remaining members. Some of the drop-offs have taken another route to the US, others have stayed in Mexico, and more have turned and gone home, some falling ill and some fearing attacks and harassment by criminals.
One student, Jose David Sarmientos Aguilar, told CNBC that he joined the march “without thinking about what could happen and the consequences it could bring,” and decided to turn back when he heard rumors of two other migrants falling off a truck and dying on Monday.
President Trump has vowed to stop the caravan since it departed, declaring border security a “national emergency,” and tweeting on Thursday that he is “bringing out the military” to deal with it.
Whatever branch of the military the troops are drawn from, they are unlikely to stand at the border with weapons drawn. A federal law dating back to the 1870s forbids the military from engaging in law enforcement on US soil, unless authorized by Congress. The troops will therefore likely provide reconnaissance, logistics, and assistance to Customs and Border Patrol agents.
The US’ southern border with Mexico is just under 2,000 miles long, and officials told CNN that any troops deployed will likely be reinforcing key positions along it.
US law enforcement officials arrested almost 17,000 people trying to cross the southern border in September, up 31 percent from August. A total of 397,000 migrants were arrested in the 2018 fiscal year, which ended in September, a marked increase over the 304,000 apprehended in 2017.
Many migrants reckon that ravelling en masse offers safety in numbers and similar, albeit smaller, caravans have made the same journey for the last decade. A second caravan of 1,000 people is reportedly gathering in Guatemala this week, the migrants there hoping to follow the route of the larger group.