More than 2,000 additional troops could be deployed to the southwest border to help Customs and Border Patrol deal with the flow of migrants into the U.S., according to a Wednesday release from the Pentagon.
The Homeland Security Department earlier this month requested funding for up to 1,000 Texas National Guardsmen. Acting Defense Secretary Richard Spencer, who took responsibility of the Defense Department on Tuesday afternoon, approved the request hours later.
“Additionally, active duty force deployments will increase in the next several weeks by approximately 1,100 personnel in support of CBP’s Operation Guardian Support mission with aerial surveillance, operational, logistical, and administrative support,” DoD spokesman Maj. Chris Mitchell said in the release.
The troop surge would add to more than 5,000 active and reserve component troops already on the border, a number that has steadily grown since the first deployment last fall.
The Texas Guardsmen will specifically help CBP with intake and detention of migrants. About 750 will go to Donna or Tornillo, Texas, to adult migrant holding facilities, though DHS law enforcement will be directly supervising migrants, the release said.
The other 250 or so will provide back-up at Texas airports and ports of entry.
“Decisions regarding arming military personnel and related rules for the use of force will be informed by the circumstances of their mission and be made by the governor of Texas, in consultation with CBP,” Mitchell said.
Some troops deployed to the border have been carrying weapons. In late May, a Marine admitted to firing his weapon after an alleged attack while in a vehicle on the border. And in April, a group of Mexican troops disarmed an American soldier after a confrontation on the border.
The issue of military support on the border came up Tuesday in a confirmation hearing for Army Secretary Mark Esper, who has been tapped for the next defense secretary.
"I think in many ways, it’s just one of those things we do — whether it’s putting out wildfires in California, helping with hurricane recovery in Texas or Puerto Rico, flooding along the Mississippi,” he said. “It’s one of those things we provide to other parts of the government, to the American people.”
Earlier this year, the Army also agreed to re-route $1 billion from its personnel accounts to fund construction of the border wall.
Those funds, along with several billion others, have been held up by a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. The Trump administration requested the Supreme Court to lift the hold last Friday, and the ACLU has until the end of the week to submit their response, the Associated Press reported Sunday.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT