“It will be different from what troops were used for during the Trump administration, when they were engaging directly with migrants,” Escobar said Tuesday in a Zoom call with reporters. “They will be there to support other operations, but not law enforcement operations, so that Border Patrol agents can get back to their mission.”
The Department of Homeland Security has asked the Department of Defense for logistical support in anticipation of a new migrant surge when Title 42 expulsions end on May 11. Between 1,200 and 1,500 troops initially are being sent to various border cities.
Escobar said she didn’t know how many troops are coming to El Paso but said the soldiers would be engaged in tasks such as monitoring video surveillance cameras and providing logistical support – transportation and such – at the border.
“I have not spoken to DoD but did with Secretary (Alejandro) Mayorkas. He assured me that at no time will they be engaging in Trump-style (actions) at ports of entry,” she said, referring to soldiers standing guard with rifles to enforce “metering” – the practice of limiting who came come across to claim asylum each day. “At no time will they be offering law enforcement support or interacting with migrants.”
Escobar said Fort Bliss would not be providing processing space or housing for migrants like it did for Afghan refugees in 2020. That’s because the international situation has changed with the war in Ukraine and the post can’t spare resources at this time.
Despite the assurances, some advocacy groups are concerned about soldiers coming to the border in the middle of a migrant crisis.
“People seeking safety should be met with compassion and care, not with a show of intimidation. We have serious concerns with the reference to U.S. troops being deployed for ‘detection and monitoring.’ These words offer no transparency to an already tense situation,” said Jennifer Babaie, director of advocacy and legal services at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.
She said the Biden administration had more than a year to prepare for the end of Title 42 with long-term solutions.
Instead, “once again we are witnessing the administration’s refusal to offer concrete solutions in favor of deterrence measures, completely distorting any meaningful access to safety for the families who are crossing,” she said. “Militarization and law enforcement are not the answer – meaningful access to humanitarian protection is.”
Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, said Biden seems to be scrambling for “last-minute and ill-conceived” political responses to a humanitarian crisis.
“This latest announcement is yet another failed promise towards building a humane immigration system and a clear depiction of the lack of a comprehensive strategy within the administration,” Garcia said. “We urge the Biden administration to build welcoming infrastructure at our southern border instead of ‘managing’ innocent families, children, men, and women who have fled their native countries in search of safety, opportunity, and hope.”
Patrol chief: Expect enforcement in South El Paso
In a related topic, Escobar said federal officials and local leaders are still trying to cope with the rising number of migrants congregated around a Catholic church in South El Paso.
Hundreds of people lined the sidewalks around Sacred Heart church as well as those in adjacent blocks on Tuesday, many with their backpacks and other belongings by their side.
Escobar said many of those migrants are undocumented and cannot be absorbed by nonprofit shelters that depend on federal funding. She said she’s working with the American Red Cross to provide them a safe space.
U.S. Border Patrol officials say they are constrained by federal law when it comes to enforcing immigration laws in schools, hospitals, churches and places where people receive social services.
“Whether it’s a homeless shelter or a school or a church we are not going to enter into those areas, we are not going to go near those areas” Border Patrol El Paso Sector Chief Agent Scott Good said on Tuesday. “There will be some enforcement with some other agencies to address that (situation) because, yes, there are hundreds of people in that area right now. We will see some enforcement there in the near future there, but it will be in partnership with other agencies.”
He was referring to enforcement in South El Paso but did not define what areas or city blocks will continue to be considered part of the church’s overflow.
Escobar blamed misinformation on the other side of the border for so many people evading the Border Patrol and reaching the sanctuary of the church.
“Misinformation is so potent that migrants are being told to come to El Paso to get free transportation and a (work) permit. We are battling in a number of fronts misinformation with good information, finding shelter space for the undocumented because we cannot use federal funds to shelter them,” she said.