One day after President Trump’s State of the Union Address, which was heavy in its emphasis on border security and its imploring of Democrats to come to the negotiating table to avert a second partial government shutdown over the President’s desired border funding priorities, the Pentagon has announced that it is shifting 250 active-duty troops to the Texas-Mexico border to better prepare for the arrival of a new Central American migrant “caravan.”
NBC News reports:
The Pentagon is moving 250 active duty troops to the border town of Eagle Pass, Texas, in advance of the arrival of a new caravan of migrants, according to a statement Wednesday by Defense Department spokesperson Capt. Bill Speaks.
The move reflects President Donald Trump’s mention of a “human wall,” but comes amid increasing frustration among Pentagon leaders with the continued border requests from Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
Under the new directive, the troops will be moved from Arizona to Texas and — in a sign of the Pentagon’s frustrations — will not represent an increase in the overall number of U.S. troops assigned to the border mission.
The Pentagon currently has about 2,400 active-duty troops stationed at the border right now. There were upwards of 5,600 troops at the border around the time of the midterm election in November. As The Daily Wire reported yesterday, the news of the shift of 250 active-duty troops comes closely on the heels of the Pentagon’s announcement of an additional 3,750 troops deployed to the border:
On Sunday, the Department of Defense announced that an additional 3,750 U.S. forces would be deployed to the border for 90 days.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen called the caravan “lawless” and said the migrants would not be allowed to cross into the United States illegally.
“Approximately 2,000 aliens have arrived in northern Mexico as part of a ‘caravan’ seeking to cross the border into Texas,” Nielsen said in a statement. “Illegal entry will not be tolerated and we stand ready to prevent it.”
From a legal perspective, active-duty troops are not allowed to apprehend and detain illegal migrants in the same way that Border Patrol might. Instead, they assist with ancillary support, such as helicopter surveillance, installation of fencing barriers, and vehicle maintenance and support. As the Military Times noted in October, the reason for this is a little-known 19th-century law, enacted shortly after the end of Reconstruction, known as the Posse Comitatus Act:
Migrants arriving at the border will now see a sizable U.S. military presence — more than double the 2,000 who are in Syria fighting the Islamic State group — even though their mission will be largely a support role.
That’s because the military is bound by the Posse Comitatus Act, a 19th- century federal law that restricts participation in law enforcement activities. Unless Congress specifically authorizes it, military personnel can’t have direct contact with civilians, including immigrants, said Scott R. Anderson of The Brookings Institution.
It remains to be seen how, if at all, the deployment of an additional 3,750 troops to the border and the shifting of 250 troops to thwart the latest migrant “caravan” may affect the current border wall-centric negotiations between Republicans and Democrats over averting a second partial government shutdown next week.