US Deployment to Southern Border at Peak, Official Says

US Deployment to Southern Border at Peak, Official Says

The number of U.S. troops at the border with Mexico has reached its peak, the deputy secretary of defense said Thursday.

More than 5,800 active-duty and 2,100 National Guard troops are deployed to help U.S. Customs and Border Protection with border security logistics.

"We're pretty much peaked in terms of the number of people that are down there," Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon.

Marines patrol during work to fortify the border structure that separates Tijuana, Mexico, behind, and San Diego, near the San Ysidro Port of Entry, Nov. 9, 2018, in San Diego.
The troops were deployed to the U.S. southern border after the Department of Homeland Security requested the Pentagon's help. Shanahan said the request runs through Dec. 15.

The U.S. military personnel there have been helping with barriers, fencing and aerial support. They are legally prohibited from engaging in domestic law enforcement, such as arresting migrants crossing the border.

Several hundred Central American migrants arrived Wednesday in the Mexican border city of Tijuana after a month of traveling away from poverty and violence at home in hopes of entering the United States.

About 800 migrants are now in Tijuana, and many said they would stay there and wait for the rest of their caravan to arrive and for leaders to advise them on their options for seeking U.S. asylum. Some of the early arrivals went to the border fence to celebrate.

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands trying to reach the U.S., look through the border fence between Mexico and the United States, in Tijuana, Mexico, Nov. 14, 2018.
The bulk of the migrant group — about 4,000 people, mostly from Honduras — is making its way through Sonora state and is expected to arrive in Tijuana in a few days.

The San Ysidro port linking Tijuana to the U.S. city of San Diego is the busiest crossing on the border. But it processes only about 100 asylum claims per day, meaning those in the caravan who seek that route face a long wait.

Tijuana could also face a strain, with migrant shelters there already at or near capacity.

U.S. President Donald Trump has sharply criticized the caravans, casting them as a "national emergency." On Saturday, he signed a proclamation declaring migrants who entered the country illegally ineligible for asylum. That goes against laws that state all entrants are eligible for asylum, no matter how they got into the country.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups quickly sued and sought an injunction against the new rules while the case makes its way through the courts. The government was due to file a response to the case Thursday, and a federal judge has set a hearing on the injunction for Nov. 19.

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, line up for food in a makeshift camp in Mexico City, Mexico, Nov. 15, 2018.
In addition to the caravan at or nearing the border, two others have made their way to Mexico City with more than 2,000 people.

Mexico said last week it had issued 2,697 temporary visas to individuals and families, allowing them to work while their refugee applications proceed.

Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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