The military will be sending 540 more troops to the southern border to help prevent crossings by migrants potentially infected with coronavirus, U.S. Northern Command generals said Wednesday.
Air Force Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy, commander of U.S. Northern Command, said the troops would assist the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol "to secure against potential COVID-positive migrants coming over the border."
In a telephone conference with reporters at the Pentagon, O'Shaughnessy and Richardson were asked whether the military was considering withdrawing some of the 5,000 active-duty and National Guard troops already on the border to assist in combating coronavirus elsewhere.
O'Shaughnessy said that wasn't the case, and added that the additional troops would be deploying to assist CBP agents under new authorities allowing the immediate return of migrants potentially infected with COVID-19.
CBP and Homeland were asking for more assistance, he said, although the number of migrants taken into custody at the border has been declining in recent months.
In January, CBP reported that the number of people apprehended or deemed "inadmissible" at the border fell to 40,620 in December, down 72% from May 2019 following the Trump administration's policy of immediate return.
"Specifically to the border, as we try to seal off the external potential for COVID exposure to our U.S. citizens, there's actually an increased demand signal, not a decreased demand signal, for security on our southern border," O'Shaughnessy said.
However, Hina Shamsi, director of the national security project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the deployment of additional troops to the border on "speculative grounds" that migrants might have coronavirus was misguided.
"This health crisis must not be employed in ways that cause more harm," she said. "What we've urgently sought was immediate clarification on the military's limits in its authorities at the border. We have received no answers."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.