The Trump administration is sending 160 active-duty personnel to the southern border in light of a recent court ruling preventing the government from making immigrants wait in Mexico.
Senior Customs and Border Protection officials said they are sending 80 soldiers to El Paso, Texas, and another 80 to San Diego to support officers at official border crossings there. Officials also said they were sending soldiers there due to increasing coronavirus concerns.
On Friday of last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked the Trump administration's “Remain in Mexico” policy, has sent back nearly 60,000 immigrants from the US border and forced them to wait in Mexico while their cases are completed, though later the same day it suspended its order.
In between the two court actions immigrants presented themselves at official border crossings, sometimes in large groups, to ask the border officials to take them out of the policy officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) following the initial ruling. In the Mexican city of Ciudad Juárez, CBP responded by shutting down a port of entry and officers temporarily shut down a bridge in Brownsville, Texas.
"Immediately upon that decision from the 9th Circuit enjoining MPP we had large groups of mass that causes instant port closures and disruption of port operations and therefore we have to have a prepared response in the event that that decision comes down again or any clarifying court decision that could disrupt port entry operations," a senior CBP official said. "CBP ports of entry are not designed or equipped to handle extremely large groups of travelers arriving at the same time."
Earlier this week, the 9th Circuit said it would block the Trump administration's “Remain in Mexico” policy, saying it was "causing extreme and irreversible harm." The policy is in place across the entire border.
However, the 9th Circuit stayed its injunction against the policy, allowing it to continue until March 11 pending a possible review by the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court doesn't take up the administration's appeal, the 9th Circuit's injunction will take effect March 12, but only in California and Arizona where the court has jurisdiction.
CBP officials said they were sending soldiers to Texas, despite the ruling not affecting the state, because they were worried large groups of immigrants would try to force their way into the US. On Friday, when the same appeals court said MPP wasn't legal, a group of roughly 150 asylum-seekers gathered on the Ciudad Juárez side of the Paso Del Norte Bridge, which connects to El Paso. CBP shut down the bridge in response.
Officials said they are also sending active-duty personnel to San Diego because of the "history" there. They were referring to the time a caravan of immigrants tried to enter the US in 2018 and were repelled by tear gas fired by Border Patrol into Mexico to stop them.
The group of 160 will be made up of military police, engineers, and personnel providing aviation support. They will not be enforcing immigration laws, officials said. The soldiers are expected to be in place no later than Saturday.