WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) — The Pentagon will deploy 5,200 active-duty troops to the border with Mexico this week in order to deter members of a migrant caravan from illegally entering the United States, an air force general said Monday.
“By the end of the week, we will deploy over 5,200 soldiers to the southwest border,” Air Force General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command, told a press conference Monday afternoon.
“As we sit right here today, we have about 800 soldiers that are on their way to Texas right now,” O’Shaughnessy said. More will head toward states of Arizona and California this week.
The general said the troops will help “harden the points of entry and address key gaps around the points of entry.”
According to a U.S. law, the military are prohibited from performing law enforcement activities within the country. Therefore, these troops will be in support roles only, without arresting power or interacting with migrants.
But some soldiers will be armed and will be deployed with heavy equipment such as helicopters, officials said.
Those deployed will include engineers, planners, military police, pilots, cooks and medical personnel. Some of them will help build camps to house personnel of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection along the Mexican border.
The newly-announced deployment represents a sharp increase from estimates last week, when U.S. administration officials said they were considering a plan to send up to 1,000 active-duty troops to the border.
Earlier this year, more than 2,000 members of the National Guard were sent to the region to provide assistance to U.S. customs officials who oversee the processing of trade, migrants and pedestrian travel daily.
The announcement came as a caravan of migrants is slowly making its way from Central America to the southwest border of the United States.
The migrant caravan has been moving north from Central America and its numbers have been dwindling.
There are approximately 3,500 people in the group currently at the Chiapas-Oaxaca border in southern Mexico, Andrew Meehan, assistant commissioner of public affairs of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told reporters.
Another group of about 3,000 migrants is at the border crossing between Guatemala and Mexico, he added.
U.S. President Donald Trump has been warning against the caravan for weeks.
“Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border,” the president tweeted.
“Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process,” he said. “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”
The president has stepped up his focus on immigration in the days leading up to the midterm elections.
“This will be the election of the caravans, the Kavanaughs, law and order, tax cuts, and you know what else? It’s going to be the election of common sense,” Trump told a rally in state of Illinois on Saturday night.
Last week, the Pentagon approved a request for additional troops at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The White House on Monday said it is also weighing other border security measures.