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The Trump administration is sending more than 500 troops to the southern border, as part of the ongoing effort there to combat the coronavirus threat by preventing more infections coming into the U.S. interior.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made the request that the Defense Department provide 540 personnel to support Customs and Border Protection (CBP) operations on the southern border. Defense Secretary Mark Esper approved the request, which is currently in place until the end of September.
“At a time when Americans face a profound public health and national security threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative that the men and women of law enforcement have the support they need to prevent public health threats from entering the country through our borders,” a DHS official told Fox News.
The request was first reported by Reuters, which noted that the U.S. already has approximately 5,000 troops at the border to conduct non-law enforcement activities.
The request was made in order to help assist in detection and monitoring of activity across the border, but troops will not be involved in law enforcement, officials said. The request was made because of the extra strain that conducting additional health and security measures places on CBP in its border security efforts.
President Trump has made securing the border a top priority of his presidency, particularly since the U.S. has dealt with a crisis at the southern border in 2019 as more than 100,000 migrants flooded to the border each month last spring.
That crisis has abated, but the spread of the coronavirus across the globe has moved the administration to add a number of restrictions on migration and at the borders. Trump announced this month that nonessential travel would be restricted at the land borders with Mexico and Canada. That came after he imposed travel bans on China, Iran and the European Union in response to the crisis.
A CBP spokesperson told Fox News this month that wall construction is going ahead as scheduled, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been using deportation flights to return illegal immigrants to countries in the Northern Triangle while bringing back Americans stranded in those countries.
The administration also announced this month that illegal immigrants will be turned away immediately, and not detained in a center where they could spread or contract the highly contagious virus.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that migrants being caught trying to cross into the U.S. illegally are being expelled to Mexico in an average of just 96 minutes as the migrants are being processed “in the field” without even seeing the inside of a Border Patrol station.