Troops from Camp Pendleton and Texas reported for their first day of work Thursday along the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego, part of President Trump’s response to thousands of Central American migrants traveling in caravans toward the border.
“We are out here to support Customs and Border Protection to enable them to defend the southern border,” said 2nd Lt. Frederick D. Walker, a Marine spokesman for the military task force assigned to San Diego, as troops nearby unfurled large spools of razor wire and unloaded heavy machinery from vehicles.
Much of the focus, at least initially, will be on strengthening the border barrier.
“We are hardening, if you will, the fence here, putting up concertina wire to make that wall less scalable,” Walker said.
So far, some 1,300 troops have been assigned to support operations along the California-Mexico border. About 1,100 already are serving at Camp Pendleton with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force as part of a special purpose Marine air-ground task force, officials said Thursday.
They will be deployed in waves as needed, said Michael Kucharek, a spokesman at U.S. Northern Command, which is coordinating the national effort.
On Thursday morning, about two dozen Army soldiers from a military police unit based at Ft. Bliss, Texas, staged alongside large military trucks near the San Ysidro Port of Entry before moving closer to the border fence to begin work. Some northbound motorists honked their horns as they passed the camouflaged gathering.
The Defense Department said another 1,500 troops have been deployed in Arizona and 2,800 in Texas. The total number of troops is expected to grow to more than 7,000.
Though many of the migrants have said they plan to present their asylum claims at U.S. ports of entry, authorities fear large groups will attempt to rush the border and cross illegally. That’s how at least one group entered Mexico from Guatemala, by pushing through border gates and overwhelming soldiers.
The military mobilization and Trump’s repeated characterization of the caravans as an “invasion” have been criticized as a way to further politicize the immigration issue.
Customs and Border Protection officials Thursday said they are reinforcing their own ranks along the border “well in advance” of the caravans’ arrivals “to ensure that we can address any contingency.” The goal, officials said, is “to maintain border security and the safety of migrants, the traveling public, shippers and CBP personnel in the event that large groups move to cross the border into the United States.”
About 4,000 to 5,000 migrants, most from Honduras, have been headed for Mexico City — about 1,500 miles from San Diego — to reconvene, refuel and rest. Many have hitched rides on trucks in addition to walking.
Last spring, a similar caravan of about 1,000 picked San Diego as its destination, but by the time the migrants had arrived the group had dwindled. About 250 people have been processed for asylum claims in San Ysidro while others remain in Tijuana. Many migrant shelters in Tijuana are over capacity due to the long wait for asylum processing.