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

Troops at border in San Diego
U.S. troops were deployed to the San Diego border in 2018 to help reinforce the border barriers.
(John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune)

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 decision by a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last week to temporarily block the administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, officially known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, under which nearly 60,000 asylum seekers have been forced to wait in Mexico for the completion of their U.S. immigration cases.

When the court order came down Feb. 28, 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 International Bridge in downtown El Paso and several other border crossings.

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

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“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 waiting at the border were turned away Feb. 28. The 9th Circuit panel agreed to temporarily stay its own order and keep Remain in Mexico in effect until Wednesday to give the U.S. Supreme Court time to decide whether it will take up the government’s appeal. If the high court does not decide by then, the 9th Circuit has ruled that Remain in Mexico shall be blocked in the border states within its jurisdiction — California and Arizona. The order does not apply to southern border states outside its jurisdiction — New Mexico and Texas.

To prepare for the possibility of Remain in Mexico being blocked, 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.”

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

No details were available on when the troops might arrive or how long they would be deployed at 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.


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