The Trump Administration just sent 540 troops to help beef up security along the U.S.- Mexico border. This strong move protects the American people from the coronavirus and keeps the President’s campaign promises.
The order to send more troops was in response to a request from the Department of Homeland Security. A DHS official said, “At a time when Americans face a profound public health and national security threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that the men and women of law enforcement have the support they need to prevent public health threats from entering the country through our borders.”
Changing Times, Changing the Mission
There are already 5,000 U.S. troops at the southern border, mostly engaged in monitoring and detection activities. More support was needed because Customs and Border Protection agents must now perform extra health and security measures. This is in addition to their normal enforcement duties.
None of the military troops are engaged in law enforcement activities. Those remain the responsibility of Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and local Sheriff’s and Police departments.
Air Force General Terrence O’Shaughnessy of the U.S. Northern Command says, “Specifically to the border, as we try to seal off the external potential for COVID exposure to our U.S. citizens, there’s actually an increased demand signal, not a decreased demand signal, for security on our southern border.”
Old Problem, New Threat
Last year, up to 144,000 migrants a month were apprehended while attempting to illegally enter the country. Then-CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said, “The system is well beyond capacity, and remains at the breaking point.”
But the Administration responded and re-prioritized border security yet again. Thanks to the efforts of CBP and ICE agents, unauthorized entry has been cut by more than half. The threat of being detained is a powerful deterrent.
As one threat is neutralized, however, another has arisen. The pandemic means that any illegal entrant also poses a potential threat to public health. Chad Wolf, the acting Homeland Security Secretary, says, “The introduction and spread of coronavirus in our border patrol and detention facilities presents a serious danger to aliens, our frontline agents and officers, and the American people. The Department currently apprehends foreign nationals from over 120 different countries, many of whom fail to carry with them any identity, travel or medical documentation.”
To ensure that the risks are minimized as much as possible, new safeguards are now in place. These help reduce the potential risk of spreading any contagious illnesses, including COVID-19.
“Consistent with existing CBP procedures, individuals apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol between the ports of entry with symptoms of illness are referred to CDC or local health officials for additional health screening. Additionally, all persons in U.S. Border Patrol custody who meet the CDC’s coronavirus travel history and enhanced screening guidelines are being referred to CDC for additional screening,” CBP officials said in a statement.
Instead of being detained, migrants caught while trying to enter the U.S. illegally will be immediately turned away. They will be processed “in the field”, instead of being taken to a Border Patrol station. From apprehension to expulsion back into Mexico, the entire process takes just over an hour and a half.
One senior CBP official says, “I think the important message here…is that we deal with contagious diseases…all the time. We are constantly prepared and trained to deal with potentially contagious diseases…We’re taking an overabundance of caution…”