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With ‘Remain in Mexico’ in limbo, Trump administration sends troops to San Diego border

USMC engineers from Camp Pendleton worked putting up razor wire just east of the San Ysidro Port of Entry where trains pass from the US in to Mexico and Mexico to the US to support Border Patrol after President Trump has said he fears an invasion of Hondurans arriving in coming weeks. (John Gibbins/TNS)

The Trump administration is sending 80 troops to the San Ysidro port of entry in San Diego and another 80 troops to El Paso to assist U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents with security, officials said Friday.

The move is the result of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision last week to block the administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, also known as Migrant Protection Protocols, under which nearly 60,000 immigrants have been forced to wait in Mexico for the completion of their U.S. immigration cases.

When the court order came down last Friday, large groups assembled in Mexico with the potential to forcibly enter the United States, said CBP spokesman Ralph DeSio. As a result, the Border Patrol temporarily closed the Paso Del Norte Bridge in downtown El Paso and several other border crossings.

At the San Ysidro Port of Entry, about 30 migrants enrolled in Remain in Mexico waited with attorneys for several hours that afternoon, requesting they be processed into the U.S. per the court’s order. While one CBP supervisor raised his voice during a tense exchange with the attorneys, the group of asylum seekers was orderly and took care not to block other border foot traffic.

“The balance between facilitating the flow of legitimate trade and travel while upholding our national border security mission and the safety of the public and our personnel is delicate,” DeSio said in a statement. “Ports of Entry are not designed or equipped to handle extremely large groups of travelers arriving all at the same time, and temporary closure of a (port of entry) is contemplated as an extreme option, as necessary for public safety and border security.”

The migrants across the border were turned away last Friday. Then the 9th Circuit agreed to temporarily stay its own order, but only until next Wednesday so the U.S. Supreme Court has enough time to decide whether it will take up the government’s petition for a writ of certiorari. If the high court does not decide by then, then the 9th Circuit has ruled that Remain in Mexico shall be lifted in its jurisdiction — California and Arizona. The order does not apply to other border states outside its jurisdiction — New Mexico and Texas.

To prepare for the possibility of Remain in Mexico being lifted, the Defense Department has a “crisis response force” that can provide police, engineer and aviation support at select ports of entry, DeSio said.

“There is continued concern of large groups attempting to forcibly enter through the San Ysidro port,” DeSio said. He described the deployment as “one element of CBP’s larger, comprehensive border security efforts to help CBP ensure everyone’s safety and security, to include travelers, asylum seekers, business stakeholders and our own employees.”

Defense Department personnel will be involved in any action related to the coronavirus, he said. Immigration-related screenings will only be done by Border Patrol personnel.

The troops are from the U.S. Army’s 687th Engineer Construction Company and the 519th Military Police Battalion at Fort Polk, La., according to a Defense Department statement. In addition, the governor of Texas has ordered the Texas National Guard to deploy a team of soldiers from the 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade to the Brownsville, Texas, area to conduct “quick reaction force training” in support of CPB.

No details were available on when the troops might arrive in San Diego, or how long they would be deployed on the border.

The Trump administration sent troops to the San Diego border in 2018 in response to a migrant caravan that arrived in Tijuana. At one point a demonstration in Tijuana ended with a large group of migrants rushing the border fence and CBP officers responded with tear gas. Troops were not involved in the clash but had been deployed to the area to help reinforce the border barriers, including stringing loops of razor wire.

The Obama administration sent about 1,200 National Guard soldiers, including 260 to San Diego, to safeguard the border as part of the one-year Operation Phalanx that ended in 2012.


© 2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune