ARLINGTON, Va. — Defense and border officials said today that Operation Faithful Patriot, the deployment of active-duty military along the border, would bulk up security in advance of a slowly approaching caravan of Central American migrants, but confirmed those who make it to the U.S. will be able to lawfully apply for asylum like caravans before them.
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan confirmed reports that the border caravan had split, saying about 3,500 migrants are near the border of Chiapas and Oaxaca states in southern Mexico — which is about 1,600 miles from the U.S. border — and a group of about 3,000, largely families and unaccompanied children were at the Guatemala-Mexico border.
One strategy of the U.S. government is trying to drive the migrants to seek asylum in Mexico instead of the United States.
“For those that seek to make an asylum claim safely and lawfully at a port of entry, the government of Mexico has already offered you protection and employment authorization,” he said. “While CBP and its DHS partners processed over 38,000 inadmissible persons claiming fear to return to their home country safely and efficiently at our ports of entry last year, there’s no benefit to be part of a large group.”
McAleenan said a port of entry would be able to call upon “1,000 CBP officers, including 250 tactical enforcement officers and mobile response team professionals with training on managing contingencies including riot control.”
“Between ports of entry, we have an additional 830 Border Patrol agents on standby ready to deploy, to include 140 special operations agents, 385 mobile response team agents and an additional 350 agents from unaffected sectors,” he added.
The DHS request for Defense Department help is on top of the more than 2,000 National Guard troops already helping out in the border region in Operation Guardian Support.
Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy of U.S. Northern Command said the “specific request for assistance” from DHS “is for the active-duty military to enhance the capacity and capabilities of CBP by providing robust military capabilities.”
That includes equipment, combat engineering battalions, command and control teams, medical units and up to 172 miles of coiled barbed wire.
“As we sit right here today, we have about 800 soldiers that are on their way to Texas right now. They’re coming from Fort Campbell, they’re coming from Fort Knox. They’re moving closer to the border. They’re going to continue their training, and they’re ready to deploy to be actually employed on the border,” O’Shaughnessy said.
“…By the end of this week, we will deploy over 5,200 soldiers to the southwest border. That is just the start of this operation. We’ll continue to adjust the numbers and inform you of those.”
Asked how those who legally ask for asylum will be dealt with when they reach American soil, McAleenan said that “under existing law and policy we’ll process people that we apprehend crossing illegally or arriving and presenting lawfully but without documents at our ports of entry, the same way we’re doing currently.”
Since “you can only process a certain number of people at a time, even if they’re presenting lawfully,” the commissioner said the U.S. government “would want to work with the government of Mexico if this group does make it all the way to border.”
He noted that “because the northern border sectors aren’t directly affected by a potential caravan arrival we would potentially pull a few hundred agents from the northern border if we saw the need for a full-scale operation” on the southern border.