Human rights defenders on Tuesday condemned the Defense Department’s plan to deploy 1,500 active duty soldiers to the southern border for “non-law enforcement duties,” with numerous activists urging the Biden administration to instead address the root causes of migration and improve the process for people seeking asylum in the United States.
Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Tuesday that U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III approved a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) request for an additional 1,500 troops to bolster Customs and Border Protection (CBP) efforts along the southwestern border with Mexico for 90 days. There are already 2,500 troops deployed on the border.
According to a DHS statement, the 1,500 soldiers “will be performing non-law enforcement duties such as ground-based detection and monitoring, data entry, and warehouse support.”
U.S. troops “have never, and will not, perform law enforcement activities or interact with migrants or other individuals in DHS custody,” the agency added. “This support will free up DHS law enforcement personnel to perform their critical law enforcement missions.”
The deployment comes ahead of the planned May 11 termination of Title 42, a public health order invoked by the Trump and Biden administrations to deport more than 2.7 million asylum-seekers under pretext of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The administration has had months to prepare for a return to normal asylum processing when Title 42 ends,” Bilal Askaryar, interim manager of the #WelcomeWithDignity campaign for migrant rights, said in a statement.
“Instead of sending U.S. troops to intimidate people seeking safety and attempt to satisfy his critics, President [Joe] Biden should send funding to local communities eager to welcome their new neighbors,” Askaryar argued.
Laurie Ball Cooper, U.S. legal director at the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), said that “sending troops to the border sends the wrong message.”
“The Biden administration is playing into the hands of anti-immigrant zealots who are attempting to politicize and demonize the processing of asylum-seekers at the border,” she added.
Tuesday’s announcement comes just days after the Biden administration released a plan to expand refugee resettlement and family reunification parole in the Americas, with migrant rights activists welcoming some aspects of the policy while warning that provisions restricting the rights of asylum-seekers undermined the effort.
The U.S. will open immigration processing centers throughout Latin America, while expanding access to CBP One, a mobile app through which asylum-seekers can theoretically schedule an appointment to present themselves at a port of entry.
However, the app has been plagued by glitches — including difficulty recognizing the faces of would-be applicants with darker skin — that have rendered it inaccessible to many asylum-seekers. On Sunday, John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” denigrated the app as “asylum Ticketmaster.”
Furthermore, the Biden administration has proposed a rule that would require migrants to seek asylum in the first country they enter after leaving their homeland and criminalize those who fail to do so before presenting themselves at a U.S. port of entry — a clear violation of international law similar to the openly xenophobic policies of former President Donald Trump.
In response to Tuesday’s announcement, Julio Ricardo Varela, president of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Futuro Media Group, tweeted, “If this were Trump, we would all be losing our shit but since it is a Democrat, it’s just a meh.”
Other migrant advocates connected the dots between decades of destabilizing U.S. policy and action in Latin America — including supporting a genocidal regime in Guatemala and right-wing dictatorship during El Salvador’s civil war — with mass migration.
Instead of deploying troops, the Biden administration “must restore the right to asylum and prioritize addressing the factors causing people to flee to the U.S., such as the growing authoritarian governments in Central America, endemic corruption, an exclusive economic model, and poverty,” said Vicki Gass, executive director of the Latin America Working Group.
“Until these are addressed, people will continue to look for a better way of life,” Gass added. “A military solution is not the answer.”