WASHINGTON (AP) — About 550 U.S. active duty troops have begun arriving along the U.S.-Mexico border in the first group of military support ahead of an expected increase of migrants, U.S. defense officials said Tuesday.
The forces will mainly be used to help monitor and watch the border as pandemic-era restrictions on asylum end, and will have no contact with the migrants.
More than 900 more soldiers, Marines and airmen will follow around the end of the month, as the Biden administration bolsters efforts to monitor the border and process incoming migrants. The initial plan calls for a 90-day deployment of the active duty forces, because they can be moved much more quickly to the border than National Guard or Reserve troops.
The Pentagon has said that some of the active duty forces could be replaced over time by reservists, who need more time to deploy.
According to a defense official, most of the active duty troops will be doing monitoring and detection, which are done from trucks positioned along the border. They will replace border agents who normally do those jobs, freeing them up for enforcement and other tasks. In addition to monitoring the border, the troops will also do data entry and warehousing support.
The defense official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details not yet made public.
U.S. and international law give migrants the right to seek asylum, but the U.S. has used Title 42 of a public health law to expel migrants 2.8 million times since March 2020 on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19. Those restrictions are set to expire Thursday.
Nearly all of the troops arriving at the border this week are Army soldiers, according to the official. The second group of more than 900, which will arrive later, will include about 300 soldiers, 550 Marines and 75 airmen, the official said. The soldiers will include military police units.
The Marine Corps contingent will come from Camp Pendleton, California, and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, said Marine Maj. Jim Stenger. The exact timing of their arrival was not given.
Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said that at least some of the troops will be used near El Paso, Texas.
Roughly 2,500 National Guard members are already spread across all sectors of the border, providing an array of support to Customs and Border Protection, including monitoring, detection and air transportation. The new infusion of troops will be doing some of that, as well as administrative and data-entry duties to free up border agents to deal more directly with the migrants. The military troops do not do any law enforcement activities.
Even with the COVID-19 asylum restrictions still in place, the administration has seen record numbers of people crossing the border, and President Joe Biden has responded by cracking down on those who cross illegally and by creating new pathways meant to offer alternatives to a dangerous and often deadly journey.