Military personnel were seen at the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville at around noon Monday prior to federal officials announcing the deployment of 5,200 soldiers to the U.S.-Mexico border by week’s end.
Soldiers will be armed and provide tactical, operational and surveillance support while 800 of them are on their way now to take part in “Operation Faithful Patriot,” which is what the effort to “harden” the southern border against a migrant caravan making its way through Mexico is being named.
The announcement came Monday afternoon at a joint news conference with U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan and Gen. Terrence John O’Shaughnessy, commander of the U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command.
“ That is just the start of the operation,” O’Shaughnessy said during the news conference. “We will continue to adjust the numbers and inform you of those but please note that’s in addition to the 2,092 that are already deployed from our National Guard’s Operation Guardian Support that’s been so effective.”
The general added the soldiers would be prohibited from using their weapons because of the “posse comitatus” act, which prohibits the federal government from using the armed forces for law enforcement.
Shortly after the appearance of military personnel Monday, CBP agents wearing SWAT gear were seen performing crowd-control drills on the inbound and outbound lanes of the Gateway International Bridge.
A similar training was conducted last week at the same location.
The Brownsville Herald reached out to CBP Spokesman Elias Rodriguez regarding the exercise but was referred to federal authorities in Washington D.C.
Prior to the start of the exercise, CBP agents blocked off traffic entering the Gateway International Bridge with cones for the duration of training, which lasted for about 20 minutes.
Pedestrian lanes, however, remained open.
Media contacts for the Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Defense did not respond to requests for comment.
McAleenan said the migrant caravan has been moving slowly north from Central America and its numbers have been diminishing, yet federal agencies will take appropriate measures to ensure border security.
“ As of this afternoon, we continue to track a large group of approximately 3,500 traveling through southern Mexico with the intent to reach the U.S. border,” he said. “This group is near the Chiapas-Oaxaca border in southern Mexico. We’re also aware of a second large group at the Ciudad Hidalgo border crossing between Guatemala and Mexico. Size estimates for the second group are around 3,000.”
McAleenan added that the caravan has already been offered protections in Mexico and migrants will not be allowed to enter the U.S. the same way.
“ For those who seek to cross the border illegally, we will apprehend them and fully enforce the laws of the United States,” he said. “For those who seek to make an asylum claim safely and lawfully at a port of entry, the government of Mexico has already offered you protection and employment authorization. If you are fleeing an alleged persecution at home, you have (already) arrived at a safe place to make your claim.”
In a statement regarding the deployment of troops, Shaw Drake, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union Border Rights Center in El Paso, said President Donald Trump chose to force the military into furthering his anti-immigrant agenda of fear and division prior to the midterm elections.
“ 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 terrorize and militarize our border communities,” Drake wrote. “Military personnel are legally prohibited from engaging in immigration enforcement, and there is no emergency or cost-benefit analysis to justify this sudden deployment.”
Trump tweeted on Monday about the caravan, saying no one will be admitted “unless you go through the legal process.”
The migrants are still around 1,000 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border.