Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan approved the Department of Homeland Security’s request April 29 to add additional support at the U.S. southern border. As a result of this approval, approximately 320 Department of Defense personnel will be supporting the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the border.
The DHS requested more support from the Pentagon on April 24, the official request asking for approximately 280 additional U.S. troops and logistical support for operations at the border. The request came after the CBP released data indicating a rise in apprehending migrants at the southern border in March — more apprehensions were made that month than any other in over a decade.
The requested logistical support included 20 military lawyers to help represent the DHS in immigration court, 100 support personnel to provide care to migrants and 160 drivers to help transport migrants from border patrol stations to other CBP facilities.
President Donald Trump also advocated for deploying more troops to the border April 10. He said that increasing the military presence at the border would further his plans to create tighter immigration laws for Central and South American migrants and create an overall stricter process. He also expressed a desire to allow the military to act with more force against migrants.
“I’m going to have to call up more military,” Trump said. “Our military, don’t forget, can’t act like a military would act. Because if they get a little rough, everybody would go crazy. … They have all these horrible laws that the Democrats won’t change.”
This newly added DOD personnel will be in addition to the 3,000 active duty troops and the 2,000 National Guard personnel already deployed at the border.
Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Davis, a spokesperson for the Pentagon, said the DOD personnel will only be filling a logistically supportive role.
“DOD personnel will assist in driving CBP vehicles to transport migrants; providing administrative support, including providing heating, meal distribution and monitoring the welfare of individuals in CBP custody; and attorney support to ICE,” Davis said.
The welfare of migrants detained by the CBP has been a major source of contention in U.S. politics for years. According to Human Rights Watch, migrant detainees in CBP custody are often placed in incredibly cold holding cells when first detained and are denied amenities like soap, toothpaste or toothbrushes. The inaccessibility to basic amenities also disproportionately impacts women and children, who were denied necessities like menstrual products and diapers.
Some migrants have also died while in CBP custody, spurring widespread condemnation and scrutiny from critics of CBP. The most recent death was that of a 40-year-old migrant, who died after being evaluated by CBP medical personnel and transferred to a hospital for flu-like symptoms shortly after being apprehended. However, some children have died in CBP custody as well, deaths that have led to accusations that the CBP provided inadequate care and conditions.
The added 320 DOD personnel will be required to support the DHS request for assistance through September 30, 2019, Davis said. The added personnel will cost approximately $7.4 million.
Davis also clarified that the newly deployed DOD personnel would only be supporting functions and divisions of the U.S. government, and they will not be filling the roles of law enforcement personnel.
“DOD personnel will not perform any law enforcement functions,” Davis said. “In any situation that requires DOD personnel to be in proximity to migrants, DHS law enforcement personnel will be present to conduct all custodial and law enforcement functions and provide force protection of military personnel.”