The Trump administration will send about 800 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border ahead of the illegal immigrant caravan, a defense official confirmed Thursday, following through on President Trump’s pledge.
Most of the troops will be active-duty Army soldiers who specialize in support operations such as logistics and engineering. Medical staff also will be part of the deployment, with an Air Force contingent assisting in aerial evacuations.
They will join more than 2,000 National Guard troops already in the region, deployed in April as a previous caravan was testing the border.
It was not clear Thursday what operational gains will come from adding active-duty troops to the mix, but it makes good on a declaration Mr. Trump made over the past week that he wanted to mobilize the regular military, not just the Guard.
“You’re going to see a very secure border. You just watch,” Mr. Trump told supporters at a political rally in Wisconsin Wednesday night. “The military is ready. They’re all set.”
Turning to Pentagon brass to solve problems has been a theme for Mr. Trump during his time in office.
The Guard troops he asked for earlier this year are helping with surveillance to detect illegal crossings and with clerical and mechanical work, with a goal of freeing border agents and officers to get into the field.
Guard troops are not involved in patrolling or arresting illegal immigrants or smugglers.
From the description officials have given of the latest deployment, it does not appear that will change.
That makes it unlikely the infusion of personnel will deter the migrant caravan streaming north through Mexico.
While public estimates say the caravan has at least 5,000 people, Mexican officials put it closer to 3,630, most of them from Honduras.
They left their home country two weeks ago and made it to Guatemala. Some broke into Mexico, while others are still in Guatemala trying to figure out their path forward.
Guatemalan officials rescued seven unaccompanied children who were being smuggled inside the migrant caravan, Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, reported Thursday.
The group said the smugglers have been arrested and the children have been taken into custody by authorities and are being given welfare checks.
“This caravan deal presents an opportunity for incredible criminal activity,” said Chris Farrell, Judicial Watch’s director of investigations, who returned from Central America, where he spent time tracking the caravan.
He said he saw among the caravan men with Gothic-script “MS” tattoos, which would likely make them members of the violent MS-13 gang that Mr. Trump has said infiltrated the caravan.
He also saw what Border Patrol agents refer to as “special interest aliens” — those from countries outside the usual set of nations that send economic migrants.
Mr. Trump has said Middle Easterners in the caravan could be trouble.
If the caravan follows the lead of previous migrants from Central America, many will make asylum claims in the U.S. If they pass their initial screening, they will be admitted and likely released into the community to await a full hearing. Most will then disappear into the shadows, not bothering to follow through on their cases, authorities said during the April caravan.
The latest announcement of a troop deployment angered liberal activists, who called it a “desperate political stunt.”
“All Americans should be concerned about Trump’s increasingly frantic attempts to stir up animosity and incite violence against people of color, the media and his political opponents,” said Heidi Hess, co-director of CREDO Action.
Republicans, though, said the president was right to stiffen America’s response to the caravan.
“President Trump’s use of military force to protect America’s southern border is mandated by the commander in chief’s oath of office and constitutional duties,” said Rep. Mo Brooks, Alabama Republican.