Border Troops May Shift to California as Migrants Gather in Tijuana

U.S. soldiers install wire at the border for Operation Secure Line in Hidalgo, Texas on November 11, 2018. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Public Affairs/Ozzy Trevino)
U.S. soldiers install wire at the border for Operation Secure Line in Hidalgo, Texas on November 11, 2018. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Public Affairs/Ozzy Trevino)

Some of the thousands of active-duty troops deployed to the border in Texas and Arizona are likely to shift to California to help U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) deal with an expected crush of migrant asylum-seekers coming from Tijuana, U.S. Army North said Tuesday.

"We may shift some forces to engineering support missions in California and other areas," Army North said in a brief statement, which gave no timeline for when the shift might occur. The projected end date for the deployment remains Dec. 15.

On Monday, Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, also said that sending additional troops to California is under consideration.

Currently, there are about 5,800 active-duty troops deployed to the border -- 2,800 in Texas, 1,500 in Arizona and 1,500 in California, in addition to 2,100 National Guard troops who have been deployed along the border since last spring, Manning said.

When the deployments began last month, Air Force Gen. Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command, said at a news conference that active-duty troops also were likely to go to the New Mexico border, but that has not happened thus far.

It was not immediately clear how the shift to California might affect the tentative end date for the mission. The deployment initially was dubbed "Operation Faithful Patriot," but the name was dropped earlier this month and the Pentagon is now calling it only "border support."

On Monday, Manning said, "We'll continue to support CBP's request for support up until Dec. 15, unless we're directed otherwise."

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, commander of U.S. Army North, said troops could begin pulling out as early as this week.

In an interview with Politico, Buchanan said, "our end date right now is 15 December, and I've got no indications from anybody that we'll go beyond that."

However, the planned pullout could be complicated by a court ruling late Monday that temporarily blocked President Donald Trump's order to deny the right to seek political asylum to migrants who don't come to designated ports of entry and instead cross the border illegally.

In U.S. District Court in San Francisco, Judge Jon S. Tigar issued a nationwide temporary restraining order against the Trump administration's attempt to restrict the right to seek political asylum, saying the president had violated a "clear command" from Congress.

"Whatever the scope of the president's authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden," Tigar, who was nominated to the bench by former President Barack Obama, wrote in his ruling.

"Failure to comply with entry requirements such as arriving at a designated port of entry should bear little, if any, weight in the asylum process," Tigar said.

His ruling came in a suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups.

Trump has called the "caravan" of migrants, mostly from Central America, an "invasion," and suggested that their ranks could include MS-13 gang members and "Middle Easterners."

Advocates for the migrants have said that they are seeking asylum to escape persecution and death threats in Honduras and Guatemala.

An estimated 3,000 of the migrants have gathered in Tijuana, amid protests against their presence by local residents, and are expected to seek asylum at the San Ysidro port of entry, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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