The move comes as Title 42, the public health law that permits the U.S. to deny asylum and migrations claims for public health reasons, is set to expire on May 11. Some senior U.S. officials say the end of Title 42 could entice more people seeking a better life in America to present themselves at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The administration has had over two years to plan for the eventual end of this Trump-era policy in a way that does not compromise our values as a country,” Menendez said. “I have offered them a strategic and comprehensive plan, which they have largely ignored. Trying to score political points or intimidate migrants by sending the military to the border caters to the Republican Party’s xenophobic attacks on our asylum system.”
The service members, mainly coming from Army units, will not have a law enforcement role. They will be armed for self-defense but will be performing monitoring and administrative tasks only, freeing up Border Patrol officials to process migrant claims, officials said.
The additional troops, which are being sent to fill a request from the Department of Homeland Security, will fill “critical capability gaps,” including detection and monitoring, data entry and warehouse support. They will be there for up to 90 days, after which military reservists or contractors will do the work.
“U.S. Customs and Border Protection is investing in technology and personnel to reduce its need for DoD support in coming years, and we continue to call on Congress to support us in this task,” the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved the official request from DHS, sending soldiers to join 2,500 National Guard troops already activated to assist law enforcement at the border.
The National Guard troops already at the border are deployed in active-duty status, which means their mission is funded by the federal government and not their respective states, according to the DoD official. They are assisting border agents with detection and monitoring.
President Joe Biden last week signed an executive order authorizing the administration to call up active-duty forces to address drug trafficking at the southern border, essentially preapproving the mission. DHS then asked the Pentagon for assistance.
Last week, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas previewed how his agency would be stretched by the end of Title 42.
“We have been preparing for this transition for more than a year and a half. Notwithstanding those preparations, we do expect that encounters at our southern border will [be] increasing, as smugglers are seeking to take advantage of this change and already are hard at work spreading disinformation that the border will be open after that,” he told reporters. “High encounters will place a strain on our entire system, including our dedicated and heroic workforce and our communities.”
Biden admin to set up migrant processing centers in Latin America ahead of end of Title 42
While the politics of the border crisis have shifted in recent years, Biden could see similar reactions to Menendez’s. Many Democrats fiercely resisted the Trump administration’s deployment of active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, arguing the move was politically motivated, would harm readiness and service members would be quietly involved in law enforcement. The House Armed Services Committee’s first hearing after Democrats took control in 2019, for instance, was on the Pentagon’s support for DHS at the border.
But the Senate’s top appropriator on defense, Jon Tester (D-Mont.), said he wouldn’t object to the move as an emergency measure. He added that the news highlights the need to fully fund the Department of Homeland Security.
“We need a secure border, if that’s what we need to do now, do it,” Tester said. “The real issue here is that we have to empower the Department of Homeland Security, and Customs and Border Protection to do that job.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee’s ranking member, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), said he hadn’t been briefed on the matter.
He said Biden, who’d previously shown “a lack of concern about the border” might now be “reading the polls.”
“If they would begin to resume enforcement of the law, it would be the best step possible,” Wicker said. “We are told by agents along the border that their hands are tied and they’re not allowed to enforce the law as they were earlier.”
The Biden administration’s move continues the trend of presidents using troops to fill in for the personnel-strapped Border Patrol as Congress hasn’t fully funded the agency to do its work.
In 2006, then-President George W. Bush deployed 6,000 troops to the border in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas for Operation Jump Start, which lasted two years. While there, the troops assisted with more than 185,000 apprehensions of undocumented immigrants.
Four years later, then-President Barack Obama and then-Vice President Biden sent up to 1,200 troops to the border during Operation Phalanx, which stretched for about a year. Soon after, the Obama administration also deployed troops, including a Stryker unit, from Fort Bliss to the border communities in Arizona and New Mexico for two months.
In 2018, then-President Donald Trump sent some 2,100 National Guardsmen to the southwest, though they mostly stayed miles from the border and largely performed support tasks for the U.S. Border Patrol. Months later, days before midterm elections, he deployed another 5,200 troops to fortify the border, drawing backlash from former military officials and Democrats who accused Trump of abusing the military to rile up his base.
Matt Berg and Connor O’Brien contributed to this report.