The Department of Homeland Security is requesting approximately 280 additional US troops and other logistical support for operations on the southern border, the Pentagon confirmed Friday.
The request, which was sent to the Pentagon on Wednesday, has yet to be signed by acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, according to defense officials.
The proposed additional US troops will include 20 military lawyers to help represent DHS in immigration courts, 100 support personnel to help provide food and other humanitarian care to migrants, and 160 drivers to help transport migrants in Customs and Border Protection custody from border patrol stations to CBP facilities.
If he approves the request, Shanahan will also include an amendment to previous Defense Department policy, which prohibited US troops from coming into contact with migrants except for emergency situations. The amended policy will apply to the new contingent of troops who are believed likely to come into incidental contact with migrants.
Pentagon spokesman Charlie Summers said Friday that the changed policy will enable US troops to “hand out meals in border patrol stations that are overwhelmed.”
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan visited the Pentagon Friday to discuss the updated request for assistance of additional US forces.
Last week, Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon that he did not “have a finite number” in terms of how many additional troops would be sent to the border but that the Pentagon was “looking at anticipating” what DHS needs prior to the receipt of a formal request for assistance.
“Where DHS loses its capacity is in the migrant family processing. When you think about their finite ability to do apprehensions, they’re really kind of trapped back in the processing side of things,” Shanahan said. “So working with the joint staff, we’re finding a way to, ‘How do we do more monitoring and detection for them? Do we maybe take that on as a mission?’”
Asked if the US military would be involved in the detention of migrants, Shanahan said that US troops would not be performing law enforcement duties.
Over the last year, thousands of American troops have been deployed to the southern border. At its peak, some 5,900 troops were part of the border mission, which has involved surveillance, aviation support and the placement of concertina wire between ports of entry.
Currently there are 3,000 active duty troops and 2,000 National Guard personnel deployed in support of border security.
Two US soldiers on the border recently found themselves in an encounter with armed Mexican troops, an incident that saw the Mexican forces remove one of the American soldiers’ sidearms.
President Donald Trump told reporters earlier this month that he is “going to have to call up more military” to the southern border to address a historic increase in the number of migrant apprehensions.
There were more apprehensions on the southern border in March than in any other month in more than a decade, according to data released by Customs and Border Protection.
Department of Homeland Security officials have said the influx of migrants has caused the agency to reach a breaking point. Earlier this month Trump announced then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen would be leaving her position, and her second in command, acting deputy Claire Grady, also left the department.