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White House says US troops can protect border agents if necessary

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials temporarily suspended some operations at the San Ysidro port of entry early Monday morning, Nov. 19, 2018. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Released)
November 21, 2018

The White House approved a memo that now permits U.S. troops to protect border patrol agents at the southern border.

Rumors of the new authority surfaced Monday and Trump was expected to officially declare the authority on Tuesday. He was not the one to sign off on it, however.

The memo, described as a “cabinet order” was signed by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly late Tuesday and issued to the Pentagon, Military Times reported.

The memo grants authority to all U.S. military service members to “perform those military protective activities that the Secretary of Defense determines are reasonably necessary” including the protection of federal personnel such as border agents with the Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Such activities include “a show or use of force (including lethal force, where necessary), crowd control, temporary detention. and cursory search.”

In the memo, Kelly reportedly said the authority was necessary due to “credible evidence and intelligence” which indicated potential threats against CBP agents from “incidents of violence and disorder.”

Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza confirmed to ABC News that “the Pentagon has received a memo on border security from the White House.”

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reportedly requested the protection mandate from President Trump, two defense officials told NBC News on Tuesday.

U.S. troops previous had no authority to provide protection to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents at the border.

The memo has raised concerns due to the 1898 Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits U.S. troops from acting in the role of law enforcement while in U.S. territory. The intent of the law was to prevent federal troops from exercising control over states.

However, defense officials assured Military Times that “the language in the directive was carefully crafted to avoid running up against the bedrock legal limitations set in Posse Comitatus.”

The memo comes a few weeks after the Pentagon requested a White House request for U.S. military to act as law enforcement in case of emergencies at the southern border.

A White House statement from Tuesday said, “At this very moment, massive numbers of aliens are arriving at our southern border, threatening to incapacitate our already overwhelmed immigration system.”

“We will take all necessary action to defend the executive branch’s lawful response to the crisis at our southern border,” the statement added.

Homeland Security officials estimated that 6,000 migrants are awaiting processing in Tijuana, with another group of 3,400 migrants on the way, Fox News reported on Monday.

CBP officials had to shut down the San Ysidro Port of Entry between Tijuana and San Diego early Monday amid rumors that the caravan may attempt to rush the border.

Approximately 5,800 U.S. troops were deployed to the border, combining with 2,000 previously deployed there.

The nearly-8,000 troops have been carrying out a border support mission, which consists of strengthening the border in preparation for the incoming migrant caravan. Troops and agents were busy erecting barriers and barbed wire, in addition to tents for temporarily housing personnel.