Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters Friday the Pentagon stands ready to dispatch more troops to the border region if President Trump follows through with his pledge to increase the military presence along the U.S.-Mexico boundary.
Trump said after touring a section of recently upgraded border fencing in Calexico, Calif., last week, “We’re going to bring up some more military” to deal with what he said were more than 70,000 illegal migrants rushing the border.
Shanahan said the Pentagon has had conversations with the Department of Homeland Security but has yet to receive a formal request.
“It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we’ll provide more support to the border,” he said in response to a reporter’s question as he prepared to meet with German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen. “Our support is very elastic, and given the deterioration there at the border, you would expect that we would provide more support.” Shanahan said he anticipates the support will be similar to what the military has already provided with several thousand troops, barrier construction, transport, and surveillance.
Shanahan will meet with a planning team at the Pentagon over the weekend to prepare for the potential request, he said.
“It will follow up with where are we on barrier construction, where do we stand on troops deployed, and then in the areas we anticipate, what type of preliminary plans should we be doing prior to receiving a request for assistance,” he said.
Democrats have been highly critical of the deployment of active-duty troops to the border, and many have cited a leaked internal memo the Marine Corps commandant sent to the Navy secretary warning that unexpected expenses, such as hurricane damage and border operations, could force him to cancel routine training and degrade combat readiness.
But in Senate testimony this week, Gen. Robert Neller insisted his memo was being misconstrued. “To say that going to the border was degrading our readiness is not an accurate statement,” Neller told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday.
Neller’s March 18 memo listed eight categories of unfunded and unexpected expenses. Hurricane recovery was at the top of the list, but a number of expenses were included, such as the raise for civilian employees, which was not in the budget.
“We have a shortfall of just under $300 million, of which the border mission is less than 2 percent,” Neller said. “So my intent was to just simply lay out for my boss what these were and ask for support in trying to figure out how we might fund them.”
Pressed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Neller conceded some Marines, who are not doing the jobs they would normally do, could see a small degradation in their unit readiness, but he said it depended on the unit.
“Some of the units have gone down there and they’ve done tasks that are more in line with their core mission. Like engineer units or MP units. Aviation units that were assigned to that early on have actually improved their readiness because they are able to fly certain profiles and things,” he testified.
Neller reports to his civilian boss, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer, who requested the memo and jumped to Neller’s defense at the hearing.
“The main stress that we were dealing with at the time, senator, was the hurricane, which was imposing the greatest cost on the Marine Corps,” Spencer told Warren. “Five hundred men for a month at the southern border is $1.25 million. In my mind, is that affecting my readiness stress? No, it’s not.”
Neller said so far border operations have cost the Marine Corps $6.2 million.
A group of 33 Haitian citizens who recently apprehended for attempting to sail to the U.S. and illegally enter were deported Friday to face possible prosecution back home for drugs that were found aboard the boat they commandeered, according to the Coast Guard.
The Department of Homeland Security agency said Friday Coast Guard Cutter Spencer spotted a 25-foot-long motor boat in the water about 35 miles north of Tortuga, Haiti, early Monday. The Boston-based ship deployed a small crew to inspect the suspicious boat.
While on the way to the boat, the guardsmen noticed six softball-sized bundles floating in the water about 300 feet from the boat. The packages were seized and later tested positive for marijuana.
Once at the boat, the guardsmen found 27 adult Haitian men and six Haitian women, as well as three more packages of marijuana and one of amphetamines. The narcotics all tested positive.
All 33 migrants were taken into custody aboard the Coast Guard ship and given food, water, shelter, and basic medical attention, the agency said.
A Coast Guard spokeswoman in the Miami office said they have encountered several groups this size in recent months.
“The Coast Guard diligently patrols the Florida Straits and Caribbean Sea to ensure the safety of life at sea and the security of the United States,” Lt. Cmdr. James Hodges, District 7 response officer, said in a statement. “Neither illegal migration nor drug smuggling will be tolerated, and the Coast Guard will continue to enforce federal laws while maintaining a strong presence out on the water.”
The drugs were seized and destroyed by the Coast Guard.
Some of President Donald Trump’s top national security advisers have discussed whether the military could be used to build tent city detention camps for migrants, NBC News is reporting.
The network news, attributing its information to three unnamed officials, said the discussion took place at the White House Tuesday night.
The discussion also dealt with whether the military could actually be used to run the camps once the migrants are housed there. But the NBC News sources say that was unlikely since the law prohibits the military from interacting with migrants.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, who attended the meeting, was open to sending more troops to the border provided their duties were within the law, the officials told NBC News.
Right now, troops are currently at the southern border and are mainly used for reinforcing fencing with barbed wire, according to the network news.
During the meeting, other potential new projects were discussed, including assessing land for construction of new tent cities in El Paso and Donna, Texas. The military would also be used for assessments before the construction of a processing center in El Paso.
Meanwhile, a border patrol official told NBC News that the military allows for faster construction than private contractors, who can slow down the process. “The importance of (the Department of Defense) is that they are able to mobilize quickly because we face an immediate crisis now,” said the border patrol official.
A top House Democrat said Friday the White House’s reported plan to get back at Democrats by transporting all released asylum seekers into sanctuary cities is proof the Trump administration’s approach to immigration policy is political and not about national security.
“The fact that this idea was even considered — not once but twice — serves as a reminder that the Trump Administration’s reckless immigration agenda is not about keeping the country safe, but about partisan politics and wantonly inflicting cruelty,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi said in a statement.
Thompson said the administration’s various immigration policy reforms “are all terrible.” The White House has introduced a travel ban of citizens from select countries primarily in the Middle East, and a “zero tolerance” initiative that led to families being separated at the border, and others.
“If the Administration wants to send a message to Democrats, let us send this message to the President: if your immigration policies are not fixing the problem but only cause chaos and focus on keeping people out, they will always fail. Playing politics with the country’s homeland security has been a mainstay of the Trump Administration since day one. The American people want it to end,” he said.
A Thursday report said White House officials asked officials at several federal agencies in November to look into turning over families who had illegally entered the country, and were seeking asylum, to be released in small and mid-size cities where local Democratic leaders had refused to cooperate with federal immigration agents.
“Sanctuary cities,” as they referred to, provide safety to immigrants who have committed additional crimes while in the U.S. by not honoring a request by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to detain a person for them after his legal proceedings for that crime have concluded.
The Trump administration has railed over the policy, saying it protects suspected and convicted criminals from being handed over to ICE in a safe environment and forces agents to go into the community to find wanted criminals.
President Trump’s choice to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Matthew Albence, in the past talked down conditions for migrants critics say are inhumane.
Albence, as deputy director of ICE, said in a Capitol Hill hearing last summer that the agency’s detention centers were “more like summer camp.”
His appointment comes after a major shake-up at the Department of Homeland Security this week. The department head Kirstjen Nielsen resigned midweek. Her original designated successor, ICE acting Director Ron Vitiello, saw his nomination pulled when Trump said he wanted to go with someone who would be “tougher” on immigration.
Albence, in constrast, represents a more hard-line stance for the Trump administration, ordering in a memo written in 2017 that immigration officers should act against all undocumented immigrants — not just ones that had committed additional crimes.
“I think he is what the administration is looking for,” Claude Arnold, a former special agent at ICE, told BuzzFeed News.
Both the White House and Republican lawmakers are looking for ways to narrowly change the nation’s immigration policy to stop a massive surge in illegal immigration along the southern border.
The GOP senator leading the charge is Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee. Johnson told the Washington Examiner he plans to introduce legislation “shortly” after lawmakers return from a two-week recess in April that would address the way immigration officials determine who can claim asylum to remain in the United States.
He hopes the measure can be bipartisan and believes, based on comments from the Democrats on his committee, that both parties will be on board.
“I was very encouraged by a number of Democrats walking by me, on the dais, just basically saying lets get to work on this, we have to fix this,” Johnson said.
Johnson held a hearing last week to examine the latest surge of illegal immigration along the southwest border. At the hearing, Johnson displayed a chart he’s been distributing around the Capitol lately as he tries to draw attention to the ways in which illegal immigration surges are tied to the nation’s immigration policy.
So far this year, Johnson’s chart points out, 240,000 migrants have been apprehended, some at ports of entry but most at points in between along the southwest border.
Much of the increase, the chart notes, accelerated after July 2015, when a federal judge ruled that illegal immigrant parents must be released with children soon after they are apprehended.
The court ruling attracted mass family migration from Central America as adults learned bringing children to the U.S. border would prevent them from being detained or immediately sent home.
The White House is moving along a parallel track in seeking ways to make changes that would discourage mass migration. The Trump administration is planning changes that don’t require congressional approval, which, despite Sen. Johnson’s optimism, could prove to be difficult to obtain in the House where Democrats are in charge.
Trump kicked off the effort to reform the Department of Homeland Security by ousting Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Her departure was soon followed by the resignation of other top DHS officials. The purge has caused bipartisan alarm on Capitol Hill.
According to a senior administration official, the Homeland Security Department will be directed to employ a higher threshold for allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the United States under the “credible fear” standard. Up to 90% of Central American migrants are allowed to remain in the United States initially after making such a claim to agents with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Only 10-15% of those making such claims are ultimately determined to qualify for asylum when their cases are more thoroughly reviewed by asylum officers. More than 90% of those initially let go under the “credible fear” claim end up staying in the country illegally.
“Individuals conducting the exam are part of the problem,” the senior administration official said. “One of the biggest frustrations is that USCIS hasn’t changed its culture from the Obama years. The reflexive tendency is to believe stories even if they don’t stand up to fact.”
The Trump administration is also seeking new regulations that would allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold families and children for much longer than 20 days in order to provide time for a more thorough review of asylum claims.
Johnson said he is working with the Senate Judiciary Committee to craft legislation that would alter the nation’s asylum policies and the law governing how long illegal immigrant families can be detained.
“Right now, when 85% of asylum claims are denied, there is something wrong with that initial determination,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he’s not in favor of changing the current standard for granting asylum in the United States, “but change the bar for that initial determination.”
Johnson has the backing of Senate Republican leaders, who have criticized Trump for his recent purge at Homeland Security but have long agreed with him that the surge in illegal immigration along the border is rooted in bad policy and has to be fixed.
“We desperately need some immigration legislation,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said last week on Fox News “Special Report.” “The president’s entirely correct about the crisis at the border and the fact that our immigration laws do not allow us to deal with the crisis at the border.”
The White House floated an idea with immigration officials in recent months that would have involved arresting illegal immigrants at the southern border and then busing them to sanctuary cities to send a political message to Democrats.
The Washington Post reported Thursday the proposal began in a White House email last November. The idea was raised again in February as another migrant caravan was heading to the United States.
San Francisco, a high-profile sanctuary city and which is represented by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was among the areas targeted in the proposal.
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement ultimately shot down the idea.
The White House said the proposal was designed to both send a political message to opponents of how President Donald Trump is handling immigration and also to free up space in jails near the border.
In a statement to the Post, the White House said, “This was just a suggestion that was floated and rejected, which ended any further discussion.”
Pelosi’s office was furious.
“The extent of this administration’s cynicism and cruelty cannot be overstated,” spokesperson Ashley Etienne told the Post. “Using human beings — including little children — as pawns in their warped game to perpetuate fear and demonize immigrants is despicable.”
Sanctuary cities are jurisdictions that do not enforce federal immigration laws and do not help ICE officials or agents. The Trump administration has threatened to withhold federal funding to cities and states that do not comply with ICE directives.
It was reported this week, meanwhile, White House officials are pushing a plan to have Border Patrol agents question asylum seekers to see if the migrants are truly in need of a safe haven.
Source: NewsMax Politics