Secretary of Defense James Mattis signed an order Tuesday ensuring that active-duty troops deployed to the southern border to assist U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents will remain there until at least the end of January.
The troops were initially scheduled to depart on December 15, but the Department of Homeland Security requested an extension last week due to the influx of Central American migrants arriving in Tijuana with the intent to eventually cross into the U.S.
There are roughly 5,600 troops currently stationed in Texas, California, and Arizona, where they are assisting CBP agents with various tasks including the construction of barriers and the transportation of agents by helicopter to remote areas where migrants are known to cross the border illegally. The Pentagon has not disclosed exactly how many troops will remain in the field after December 15 or exactly what roles they will fill.
While the majority of troops deployed to the border are unarmed, President Trump empowered the troops last week to employ the “use of force (including lethal force, where necessary)” when migrants use violence in attempting to breach the border.
Trump expanded the troops’ authority after a recent high-profile clash between a group of some 500 migrants who attempted to force their way into the country near the San Ysidro Port of Entry, on the border between Tijuana and San Diego. Some 6,000 migrants, many of whom are waiting while their asylum claims are processed, remain in Tijuana.
Critics of the troop presence at the border have cast the deployment as a transparent political move on the part of the Trump administration, which, they argue, sought to drum up anti-immigration sentiment ahead of the midterm elections.
The deployment has reportedly cost taxpayers $138 million thus far.