President Donald Trump directed the Pentagon to send another 1,000 troops to the US border with Mexico, amid mounting tension over a wall and a national emergency declared by the president a week ago.
The number of U.S. troops on the border will increase to around 6,000 by March 1, a senior defense official said, according to several publications.
The official said approximately 5,000 troops are already on the border and that the additional personnel are required in order to install around 140 miles of additional concertina wire and other detection systems.
“That mission has evolved. We are now transitioning to supporting [areas] between the ports of entry,” the official said. “We’re laying down another 140 miles of concertina wire — [we’re] about 30 percent done with that — as well as providing a ground-based detection and monitoring mission in support of [Customs and Border Protection].”
The source, cleared to speak to press on condition of anonymity, defended the president’s decision and argued that the move was based on necessity.
“We are not just sending people down there unless there’s a valid requirement and then we try to match, as best we can, resources to the requirement with as much specificity as possible. And if we don’t need those people then we’ll move them somewhere else,” the source said.
Troops currently at the border consist largely of National Guard personnel tasked for the most part with reinforcing and installing wire at ports of entry, transporting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, and providing medical aid to migrants.
Last fall, the Trump administration deployed 5,900 troops to the border, in reaction to a caravan slowly traveling north from Central America. Migrants in the caravan were planning to seek asylum. The influx of new troops will restore the border presence to roughly those numbers.
The decision follows Trump’s national emergency declaration on Feb. 15, when the president said that he had grown weary of warring with Congress for border wall funding.
“I could do the wall over a longer period of time,” he said at the time. “I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster.”
The national emergency allows the president to bypass congressional approval in order to acquire the remaining funds needed for the wall. Trump plans to take $6.1 billion in funding from the Pentagon’s budget for the project, which experts and activists alike have repeatedly criticized for the humanitarian and environmental hazards it poses to people and wildlife.
But even as the president bolsters the U.S. troop presence on the border, he is being met with wide-scale resistance. Sixteen states have sued over the national emergency, including the border states of California and New Mexico. The watchdog group Public Citizen has also filed suit on behalf of landowners in Starr County, Texas, who are part of a broader effort in the state rejecting the border wall over private property issues.
Democrats, meanwhile, are gearing up to challenge the effort. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Friday that the chamber plans to vote Feb. 26 on rejecting the emergency declaration; Trump has said he will veto any rejection. Democrats may seek support from Republican colleagues, as lawmakers from both parties — including some who represent the communities on the border — have expressed opposition to the president’s rhetoric about the region.