The Trump administration said Wednesday it is deploying the National Guard to the US-Mexico border to help curb illegal immigration.
US Homeland Security secretary Kristjen Nielsen said the troops will start taking their posts immediately, though she could not provide any details on how many will participate in the operation or how long it will last. “We are anxious to have that support,” she said during a White House press conference. “The urgency cannot be underscored.”
The announcement is part of Donald Trump’s renewed focus on illegal immigration over the past few days. On Sunday, he launched a Twitter offensive against undocumented immigrants, blaming Mexico and the Obama-era program that allows people who entered the US illegally as children to stay (known as DACA) for allegedly funneling them into the US. He’s also indicated that he’s sending a new package of law proposals to Congress to end policies he says immigrants are exploiting to come into the country illegally.
His latest attacks follow reports of a “caravan” of Central American immigrants making its way through Mexico to protest human rights violations by immigration authorities there. Many of the participants plan to stay in Mexico, not travel to the US, according to its organizers and Mexican government officials.
The decision to deploy the National Guard to patrol the border is not unprecedented. Both presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama carried out similar operations. Back then, though, the number of immigrants crossing into the US illegally was much larger. The number of Border Patrol apprehensions, which provides a sense of illegal traffic levels, is at historic lows.
Nielsen said the Trump administration is worried about a recent rise in apprehensions, which had dropped sharply after the 2016 presidential election. She attributes the uptick to smuggling networks she says are instructing immigrants to fraudulently apply for asylum when they get to the US.
The Border Patrol and Customs officials stopped 37,000 people in February, compared to less than 24,000 during that month last year. Despite the increase, the numbers remain at a historically low level.