Trump extends military mission at southern U.S. border

ACTIVE DUTY MEMBERS OF the military will remain at the southern U.S. border in support of the Department of Homeland Security until September, taking on a modified mission that critics and many analysts consider an attempt by President Donald Trump to maintain public attention on one of his most divisive political fronts.

Roughly 2,500 troops, down from a peak of more than 5,000 when they first deployed in November, continue to provide logistical and planning support for DHS, a task traditionally carried out by National Guard forces outside times of national emergency. The mission was originally slated to expire in January. Acting Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan approved a request from homeland security late Monday to continue its support.

The forces will transition from their prior work of hardening defenses at ports of entry to "mobile surveillance and detection, as well as concertina wire emplacement between ports of entry," according to a Pentagon statement.

The continued deployment, which many observers expected, raises continued concerns that he will use his executive power to deploy the military to build a wall along the southern border, since he has been unable to garner congressional approval for the project.

Active duty forces have not yet laid any permanent barriers during the three-month-old deployment, say officials speaking on the condition of anonymity, and there have been some minor concerns about whether the concertina wire troops have already laid – paid for by the Defense Department – would have to be packed up when the forces eventually leave. DHS will likely reimburse the Pentagon for the equipment, though concerns continue in Congress and elsewhere that the Defense Department will ultimately be left with a bill for tens of millions of dollars.

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Border Patrol agents working along the US-Mexico border
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Border Patrol agents working along the US-Mexico border
A Border Patrol agent drives his ATV during the official start for the construction of new bollard wall to replace 20-miles of primary vehicle barriers in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, United States April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
A border patrol agent carries a bale of marijuana following a drug bust by the Mexico-U.S. border in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas, U.S., April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
Border Patrol agents are pictured during the official start for the construction of new bollard wall to replace 20-miles of primary vehicle barriers in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, United States April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
Ladders collected and discarded by U.S. Border Patrol agents are pictured near a section of border fence in Hidalgo, Texas, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
Border Patrol agents keep watch during the official start for the construction of new bollard wall to replace 20-miles of primary vehicle barriers in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, United States April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Border patrol agents and a special operations group member from the Texas Ranger Division seize 297 pounds of marijuana following a drug bust by the Mexico-U.S. border in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas, U.S., April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
An immigrant who jumped into a canal in an effort to escape capture after illegally crossing the Mexico-U.S. border gives up and turns himself in to a border patrol agent in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas, U.S., April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
Border patrol agents briefly rest after seizing 297 pounds of marijuana in a drug bust by the Mexico-U.S. border in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas, U.S., April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
Suspected drug mules are apprehended by border patrol agents following a drug bust at the Mexico-U.S. border in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas, U.S., April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
Border patrol agents apprehend people who illegally crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S. in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near Falfurrias, Texas, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A Border Patrol vehicle is seen by the current border fence in Sunland Park, U.S., in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
A border patrol agent apprehends people who illegally crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S. in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near Falfurrias, Texas, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
An agent from the US Customs and Border Protection Agency patrols along the border between Santa Teresa, Nuevo Mexico State, in the US, and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua State, in Mexico, on April 9, 2018 where the US plans to build a 32-km-long steel wall. Mexico is carrying out a sweeping review of its cooperation with the neighbouring United States because of 'blatant' tension with Donald Trump's administration, the foreign minister said Monday. / AFP PHOTO / HERIKA MARTINEZ (Photo credit should read HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A US Border Patrol agent stands along the border fence on April 6, 2018 in Calexico, California. US President Donald Trump on April 5, 2018 said he would send thousands of National Guard troops to the southern border, amid a widening spat with his Mexican counterpart Enrique Pena Nieto. The anti-immigration president said the National Guard deployment would range from 2,000 to 4,000 troops, and he would 'probably' keep many personnel on the border until his wall is built -- spelling out a lengthy mission. / AFP PHOTO / Sandy Huffaker (Photo credit should read SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP/Getty Images)
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Trump has gone back and forth about whether he would declare a national emergency and order the military to begin constructing a permanent wall. As of last week, the composition of the active duty forces already stationed along the border was not prepared to begin building a permanent concrete or steel structure.

Some consider the logistical and financial burdens on the military to be unnecessary, particularly as many analysts believe America's immigration problems are centered largely in the government's ability to process and carry out judicial proceedings, like asylum hearings, and catch drug runners at ports of entry, not deter terrorists or smugglers with a wall.

"The main problem we have right now is we are having a problem deporting and adjudicating cases," says David Inserra, an immigration and national security analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "There's a priority and emphasis in the current administration on what's going on right now at the border, resources at the border. In some ways it's warranted … but as a general rule, it's a costly way to do it, and there are bigger problems with the immigration system that the military cannot fill."

 

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