Pentagon plans to dispatch at least 800 more troops to U.S.-Mexico border in response to migrant caravan

The Trump administration is expected to deploy additional U.S. troops to assist in security operations at the southern border in response to a caravan of Central American migrants traveling north on foot through Mexico, U.S. officials said Thursday. 

The plan calls for 800 to 1,000 more troops, most of them active-duty forces from the Army, to join a growing border mission called for by President Trump, two officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because an official announcement had not been made.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis could authorize the additional deployment as early as Friday, the officials said, adding that some troops could deploy within days, though others likely will arrive later.

In a Thursday morning tweet, Trump called again for changes to U.S. immigration laws, which he said “make it tough for us to stop people at the Border.” He added that he is “bringing out the military for this National Emergency. They will be stopped!”

Later, the president tweeted: “To those in the Caravan, turnaround, we are not letting people into the United States illegally. Go back to your Country and if you want, apply for citizenship like millions of others are doing!”

Critics said that a military solution would be costly and ineffective, and they accused Trump of trying to fan public fears over inflated security threats of the caravan to stoke his conservative base ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm elections. The caravan is still weeks from reaching the U.S. border, and Mexican authorities said the number of migrants has dwindled rapidly, from an estimate of 7,200 by the United Nations early in the week to 3,630 on Wednesday. The Mexican government said it had processed 1,700 asylum claims.

It is not clear what impact the troops would have, given that many of the migrants, if they reach the United States, would probably attempt to surrender to Border Patrol agents and seek legal asylum protections. U.S. officials said the troops would not conduct direct law enforcement but would instead play a supporting role. Those duties were still being defined, but are likely to include engineers who can oversee construction, aviation support and possibly doctors or lawyers who can assist migrants.

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Dan Lamothe and David Nakamura