- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2019

The Pentagon is planning to deploy hundreds more American military personnel to the southern border, in the wake of President Trump’s announcement of a national emergency along the country’s border with Mexico.

Currently 5,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Texas, Arizona and California, backing immigration enforcement operations led by the Department of Homeland Security. With Mr. Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, that number is expected to surge to 6,000 by March 1, a senior Defense Department official said Friday.

Those troops will provide air support to Customs and Border Patrol officers and Homeland Security agents carrying out border security operations. In addition, those forces have been tasked with securing the hundreds of miles of territory along the border, in between the major points of entry into the U.S.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly said those areas have become a highway for illegal immigrants and illicit narcotics coming into the U.S., despite reports from Homeland Security officials that most of the illegal smuggling comes through known entry points.

To secure those areas, U.S. troops are stringing an additional 140 miles of border area with concertina wire, along with other areas that have already been fortified during previous troop deployments to the border. That work, which the Pentagon official says is 30 percent complete, will be coupled with a new “ground-based detection and monitoring mission” to be conducted by U.S. military units.

Using American service members to conduct border patrols on the ground, along with other means of military support, is “freeing up [border] agents for a more law enforcement role,” the official added.

The president declared a national emergency on the southern border a week ago, announcing plans to draw money from military construction programs to fund the border wall. The White House plans to draw $3.6 billion from Pentagon accounts — which requires a national emergency declaration — on top of $6.5 billion in unspent federal funds to pay for the wall.

Administration officials also are moving $2.5 billion from military counter-narcotics programs and $600 million from a Treasury Department forfeiture program that collects money from drug lords and other criminals.

The announcement was met with stark opposition from Democratic lawmakers who challenged Mr. Trump over whether there is, in fact, a national emergency.

Sen. Tim Kaine, former vice presidential candidate and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, slammed the effort as a “vanity project” by Mr. Trump, telling The Washington Times the effort would hurt U.S. forces and their families.

“The president is taking money away from troops and their families to fund his vanity project,” said Mr. Kaine, Virginia Democrat. “Diverting nearly one-third of the military’s construction money for the entire year to fund a wall — when we have significant military construction needs — is a big mistake.”

• Carlo Muñoz can be reached at cmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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