Joe Biden will send 1,500 troops to the US-Mexico border, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, in preparation for a possible rise in immigration when Covid-19 border restrictions lift later this month.
The 90-day deployment of active-duty troops will supplement the work of the US border patrol but will not carry out law enforcement duties, said Brig Gen Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesperson, in a statement.
The force will be in addition to an ongoing deployment of about 2,500 national guard troops.
The deployment comes as the Title 42 restrictions, which allow US authorities to rapidly expel non-Mexican migrants to Mexico without the chance to seek asylum, are set to to end on 11 May. Donald Trump activated the policies during the pandemic and Biden had expanded the controversial public health measure, despite criticism from immigration advocates.
Now officials are bracing for the Biden administration’s ending of Title 42 next week. El Paso, the Texas border city, has declared a state of emergency in preparation for a potential influx of more than 35,000 asylum seekers who are currently stuck in the Mexican sister city of Juárez.
Biden has grappled with record numbers of migrants caught illegally crossing the US-Mexico border since he took office in 2021.
Republicans have criticized Biden for rolling back the hardline policies of Donald Trump while some Democrats and immigration activists also have lambasted Biden for gradually toughening his approach to border security.
Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat and chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, said Biden’s decision to send troops was unacceptable.
“Trying to score political points or intimidate migrants by sending the military to the border caters to the Republican party’s xenophobic attacks on our asylum system,” Menendez said in a statement.
The 1,500 troops could arrive at the US-Mexico border by 10 May, Ryder said during a briefing. They will conduct ground-based monitoring, data entry and warehouse support to free up border agents and “fill critical capability gaps”, he said.
The Pentagon is looking at ways to replace the active-duty personnel with those from the reserve force, he said.
When asked about the troop deployment in a news conference, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the Mexican president, said the US is a sovereign nation and that Mexico respects its decisions.
The US has used military troops at the border during previous presidential administrations, including Republican George W Bush, Democrat Barack Obama and Trump, who deployed thousands of active-duty and national guard troops.
The White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, called such deployments “a common practice”.
Pentagon leaders have long been frustrated about military deployments to the border, privately arguing that the mundane tasks are better suited for law enforcement agencies and can affect military readiness.
Immigration advocates have criticized previous efforts to send troops to the border.
“People seeking asylum should be met with humanitarian professionals, welcoming volunteers, and medical and mental health professionals. Not soldiers,” Bilal Askaryar, the interim campaign manager of the #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign, said on Twitter.
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