Pentagon plans to expand the military's role at the Mexican border — and waive restriction on interacting with migrants: report

Pentagon plans to expand the military's role at the Mexican border — and waive restriction on interacting with migrants: report
Photo by Dominique A. Pineiro

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan is expected to sign a request on Friday that will expand the United States military’s ability to interact with migrants along the U.S./Mexico border, the Washington Post is reporting.

Senior officials for the U.S. Department of Defense have recommended that Shanahan approve a request from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that would provide military attorneys as well as drivers and cooks to help with the increase of migrants along the United States’ southern border. The U.S. has long had a policy that forbids military personnel from coming into contact with migrants, but the move would provide waivers to that policy for about 300 U.S. troops.

The Washington Post is reporting that according to internal Pentagon documents it has obtained, this requested expansion of military activity along the U.S./Mexico border would cost “an estimated $21.9 million through the end of fiscal year 2019.”

Military attorneys, under the proposal Shanahan is expected to approve, would assist in deportation hearings in immigration courts. And troops would be asked to hand out food to migrants who are in detention.

Previously under Donald Trump’s presidency, the Pentagon approved a request to waive the policy against U.S. troops interacting with migrants. That was done in order to provide migrants with medical care if needed after Trump ordered troops to the border. Presently, the U.S. has about 2900 active-duty troops and 2000 National Guard troops stationed along its southern border.

The 56-year-old Shanahan, who previously served as deputy secretary of defense, was temporarily appointed by Trump to head the Department of Defense after the departure of former Defense Secretary James Mattis—who resigned in frustration after Trump decided to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Trump has yet to nominate a permanent replacement for Mattis.

Under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, soldiers in the U.S. Army are prohibited from performing domestic law enforcement duties. And some officials have expressed concerns about troops being asked to perform non-military functions.

Alice Hunt Friend, a former Pentagon policy official, told the Post that asking troops to perform duties that aren’t military in nature “is essentially choosing to not invest in governance and relying on the military to make up the gap. We’ve seen that happen overseas for years, and now, we are seeing it at home—and that’s very concerning.”

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