WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. plans to cut the number of active duty troops along the border with Mexico but extend the unusual deployment for another 45 days, U.S. officials said Friday.
Overall troop levels assigned to assist the Department of Homeland Security with border enforcement will drop from 5,600 to about 4,000 under a new proposal from the agency to the Pentagon.
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis was traveling and had not yet signed off on the plan but the Pentagon has been working with DHS on the request and it is expected to get approval, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
President Donald Trump ordered the unusual deployment of active-duty troops to the border in response to a caravan of Central American migrants slowly north toward the U.S. Critics dismissed the deployment as a political stunt ahead of the midterm elections
Most of the troops have been deployed in Texas, far from where the migrants eventually arrived in Tijuana, along the southern border with California. Soldiers have strung vast amounts of concertina wire and transported Border Patrol agents but have not been engaged in any law enforcement activities, which would be prohibited under U.S. law.
The initial deployment was scheduled to end Dec. 15, but Mattis and other officials had said it could be extended. The new order extends it for 45 days while still allowing about 1,600 troops to return home.
U.S. officials described the new request on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations that had not yet been approved.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, said the new DHS proposal "refines" the military support so "it remains aligned with the current threat," but declined to give details.
DHS issued a similar statement, citing the "ongoing threat at our southern border."
Officials said the troops at the border will provide support and protection for Border Patrol agents and continue to install and repair wire barriers. In addition, more troops are expected to shift from Texas and Arizona to California.
As of Friday, 2,400 troops were deployed in Texas, 1,800 in California and 1,400 in Arizona.
The troops at the border include combat engineers who can install and repair the concertina wire barriers, helicopter crews to provide transportation, and military police along with other service members who provide support for the troops.
As of last week, the cost of using troops to help secure the border was estimated at $210 million, but this extension is likely to increase that figure.
That total included $72 million for approximately 5,900 active-duty troops providing support to Customs and Border Protection, plus $138 million so far for 2,100 National Guard troops who have been performing a separate border mission since April, according to a report sent to Congress early last week.
Mexico starts moving some migrants to new shelter
By: ELLIOT SPAGAT, Associated Press
TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) — Authorities the Mexican city of Tijuana said Friday they have begun moving Central American migrants from an overcrowded shelter on the border to an events hall further away.
About 755 migrants boarded buses at the overcrowded sports complex within view of the border late Thursday and early Friday for the trip to the new site about 10 miles (15 kilometers) from the nearest border crossing.
Alejandro Magallanes, an assistant to the director of the city's social services department, said authorities hoped to bus over as many migrants as possible Friday. Concerns had been growing over unhealthy conditions at the muddy sports field where migrants are sleeping in small tents.
Magallanes said nobody would be forced to move to the new facility, a large building known as El Barretal that has been used for concerts and other events in the past.
But city officials planned to stop offering food and medical services at the Benito Juarez sports complex next to the border on Friday.
Migrants would be allowed to stay — many who hope to cross don't want to move far away from the border — but they will have to find their own food, Magallanes said.
Experts had expressed concerns about unsanitary conditions at the sports complex where more than 6,000 migrants are packed into a space adequate for half that many people. Mud, lice infestations and respiratory infections are rampant.
Magallanes said many migrants squeezed into a gymnasium at the outdoor sports complex amid a steady downpour Thursday night. The complex was covered with mud with the storm. On Friday, rain was intermittent with breaks in the clouds.
Some migrants had found work near the sports complex and were unsure about moving to a place they did not know, though it meant they would have a roof over their heads.
But authorities and residents in Tijuana are concerned the migrants might try to make another mass rush across the border: Their first attempt last weekend led to a brief closure of border crossings that Tijuana residents use to reach jobs and shopping on the U.S. side.
Meanwhile, several migrants swam around or climbed over the border barrier overnight and were detained by U.S. officials.
Six men and one woman jumped or slipped over the border barrier in Tijuana and were quickly detained by customs and border protection agents.
One Honduran man tried to swim to the U.S. side but quickly got in trouble in the rough waters of the Pacific. A Mexican rescue team forcibly pulled him ashore and put him into an ambulance.