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Pentagon extends deployment of 400 troops along US-Mexico border

About 400 active duty troops will remain deployed to the southwestern border, two months longer than their original orders.
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Soldiers from the 97th Military Police Brigade, and 41st Engineering Company, Fort Riley, KS., work along side with U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the Hidalgo, TX., port of entry, applying 300 meters of concertina wire along the Mexico border in support of Operation FAITHFUL PATRIOT November 2, 2018. Soldiers will provide a range of support including planning assistance, engineering support, equipment and resources to assist the Department of Homeland Security along the southwest border. (U.S. Air Force photo by SrA Alexandra Minor)

Roughly 400 active-duty troops will remain  on the US-Mexico border until Sept. 30, nearly two months past their original orders, after a Pentagon extension of their deployment., 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved extending the troops, a mix of Army soldiers and Marines, to continue assisting U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, with border enforcement operations, Air Force Lt. Col. Devin Robinson, a Pentagon spokesman,  told Task & Purpose on Tuesday.

The 400 troops will continue to assist Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, and other law enforcement operations, said Erin Heeter, a spokeswoman for the department.

“The support personnel are critical so that CBP agents and officers can get out in the field to securely, safely, and humanely manage the Southwest Border,”  Heeter told Task & Purpose. 

NBC News first reported that Austin had approved the extension of some of the 1,500 active-duty troops that the Defense Department deployed to the southwestern border this spring ahead of the end of immigration restrictions.

Those 1,500 active-duty troops were initially expected to deploy for 90 days at the request of the Department of Homeland Security, or DHS. They were tasked with helping U.S. Customs and Border Protection  officials with ground-based detection and monitoring, data entry, warehouse support, and other support roles.

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“Military personnel will not directly participate in law enforcement activities,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Defense Department spokesman, told reporters on May 2.  “I would point out that DOD has supported DHS on the southwest border for 18 of the last 22 years and every year since 2006.”

By the time the original 90 days ended on Aug 8.,about 1,100 of the active-duty troops had returned home and were not replaced, a defense official told Task & Purpose on Tuesday. Austin has twice approved requests from DHS to keep up to 400 service members deployed to the southwestern border.

Those active-duty troops are in addition to roughly 2,500 National Guardsmen, who are deployed to the US-Mexico border under the authority of U.S. Northern Command, the defense official said.  

A third mission currently active on the US-Mexico border, Operation Lone Star, is a state-level initiative employing National Guard troops overseen by Texas’ governor. 

DHS initially asked the Defense Department for troops to augment the border patrol this spring  because it expected a surge of asylum seekers to attempt to cross the US-Mexico border after a government rule known as Title 42 expired on May 11.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration used Title 42 to turn back asylum seekers at the southwestern border without processing their claims, ostensibly to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVD-19).

Although arrests of undocumented immigrants crossing into the United States from Mexico fell in May and June, they have risen sharply in the past two months, according to the Washington Post.

The Border patrol arrested 177,000 people along the US-Mexico border in August, a 78% increase from the 99,539 arrests in June, the newspaper reported.

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