Saturday 20 April 2019

Pentagon sending 5,200 troops to secure border as mid-term elections loom

US President Donald Trump has been eager to focus on immigration and has ramped up his threats over the ‘invasion of our country’.

US President Donald Trump spoke about immigration during a rally at Southern Illinois Airport (Jeff Roberson/PA)
US President Donald Trump spoke about immigration during a rally at Southern Illinois Airport (Jeff Roberson/PA)

By Robert Burns, Colleen Long and Jill Colvin, Associated Press

The Pentagon is sending 5,200 troops to the US-Mexico border in an extraordinary military operation.

It will attempt to stop illegal crossings in the south-west of the country by a caravan of migrants moving slowly north in Mexico.

President Donald Trump, eager to focus voters on immigration in the lead-up to the mid-term elections next week, escalated his threats against the caravan, tweeting: “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”

His warning came as the Pentagon began executing Operation Faithful Patriot, described by the commander of US Northern Command as an effort to help Customs and Border Protection stiffen defences at and near legal entry points.

Advanced helicopters will enable border protection agents to swoop down on migrants, he said.

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Terrence O’Shaughnessy, left, and Kevin McAleenan address the media (Susan Walsh/AP)

“We’re going to secure the border,” Air Force General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the Northern Command leader, said at a news conference.

He spoke alongside Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

Gen O’Shaughnessy said 800 troops are already on their way to southern Texas and their numbers will top 5,200 by the end of the week.

He said troops would focus first on Texas, followed by Arizona and then California.

The caravan of 3,500 has shrunk from a peak of about 7,200 migrants a week ago but a second caravan of about 600 had formed and was clashing with federal police on a bridge from Guatemala to Mexico.

Sending active military forces to our southern border is not only a huge waste of taxpayer money but an unnecessary course of action Shaw Drake

The US military operation drew quick criticism.

“Sending active military forces to our southern border is not only a huge waste of taxpayer money but an unnecessary course of action that will further terrorise and militarise our border communities,” said Shaw Drake, of the American Civil Liberties Union’s border rights centre at El Paso, Texas.

Military personnel are legally prohibited from engaging in immigration enforcement.

The troops will include military police, combat engineers and others helping on the southern border.

Customs and Border Protection is pushing a surge in personnel in response to the caravan of Central American immigrants, which is still hundreds of miles from the US border.

The military troops are intended to assist the border patrol, not engage directly with migrants.

The White House is also weighing additional border security measures, including blocking those travelling in the caravan from seeking legal asylum and keeping them from entering the US.

The escalating rhetoric and expected deployments come as the president has been trying to turn the caravan into a key election issue with days to go before the mid-term elections that will determine whether Republicans maintain control of Congress.

“This will be the election of the caravans, the Kavanaughs, law and order, tax cuts, and you know what else? It’s going to be the election of common sense,” Mr Trump said at a rally in Illinois on Saturday night.

He continued his threats on Monday, tweeting, without providing evidence, that “Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border”.

“Please go back,” he urged them, “you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process”.

He added: “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”

A possible announcement by Mr Trump on the other border measures had been tentatively slated for Tuesday, administration officials said, but he is instead travelling to Pittsburgh, where a gunman massacred 11 people at a synagogue on Saturday in what is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in US history.

Press Association

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