On orders from the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon is preparing to deploy “thousands” more troops to the southwestern border to put up barbed wire and conduct surveillance, amid President Trump's repeated claims of an immigration crisis.
Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan said at a press conference Tuesday that “thousands” of troops are expected to deploy soon, and will join the approximately 2,300 active-duty troops still at the border since Trump ordered them there a few weeks before the November midterms.
“Most recently DHS has asked us to support them in [installing] additional concertina wire and then expanded surveillance capability,” Shanahan told reporters.
The announcement comes as House Democrats and Trump continue to spar over funding for the president’s long-promised border wall, which led to the longest government shutdown in history.
"We are supporting our federal partners on the border, and that mission has been extended until September,” said Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, in a statement after Tuesday’s briefing. “We are currently sourcing the units involved and there will be an increase of a few thousand troops.”
In reality, unauthorized border crossings have hit record lows – a fact that Trump himself has repeatedly bragged about on Twitter. In one tweet sent nearly a year ago, he pointed to 45-year low in illegal border crossings.
In 2018, Border Patrol agents apprehended or deemed inadmissible around 520,000 people crossing the border in total. That’s a slight increase compared to 2013, when 490,000 people were apprehended, but a significant drop from 2000, when border agents apprehended between 71,000 and 220,000 migrants each month, and more than 1.6 million in total that year.
While illegal border crossings, broadly, are down compared to previous decades, U.S. Border Patrol have observed a significant increase in the number of families crossing the border illegally.
CBP say they apprehended 25,172 family members in November 2018, compared to 7,016 family members in November 2017, an increase of 260 percent. The surge in families trying to cross the border has generated what immigrant advocates have described as a humanitarian crisis, as the Trump administration struggles to accommodate growing numbers of families with young children in detention facilities that were never intended to house young children. Civil rights groups say that the “humanitarian crisis” on the border has been exacerbated, even created, by the Trump Administration’s policies seeking to deter or limit asylum seekers.
Last October, as the midterm elections loomed and a “migrant caravan” encompassing thousands of travelers headed north from Central America, Trump ordered the deployment of 5,000 troops to the border. In December, after placing concertina wire at points deemed especially vulnerable to illegal crossings, around 3,600 troops were sent home.
The Pentagon said Tuesday that the deployment of National Guard and troops on the border from last April until January 2019 will likely cost close to $700 million so far – and that’s expected to rise with the addition of more troops.
The Pentagon and DHS did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.