On Tuesday, the military doubled back on its declaration that troops stationed along the U.S.-Mexico border would begin heading home in the coming days.
POLITICO reports that Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, who’s overseeing the deployment—itself intended to block migrants from entering the United States—told reporters Monday that a contingent of soldiers would be sent home later this week.
“You’re going to see a couple things over the next week—some redeployments,” Buchanan said, citing “excess capacity” of engineers and logistics personnel.
“By Christmas, it should be all,” he continued. “Our end date right now is 15 December, and I’ve got no indications from anybody that we’ll go beyond that.”
President Donald Trump sent thousands of U.S. military personnel to the southern border before midterms, claiming danger from an approaching migrant caravan. The deployment was widely considered a political ploy by the president’s critics.
While troops aren’t allowed to arrest migrants or participate in enforcement operations, they’ve assisted Customs and Border Protection officials in erecting barriers, stringing barbed wire and conducting surveillance.
A Tuesday statement from the U.S. Northern Command clarified the branch’s position, countering Buchanan’s claims of an early withdrawal.
“No specific timeline for redeployment has been determined,” said an Army spokesman in the e-mailed statement. “We will provide more details as they become available.”
“We may shift some forces to other areas of the border to engineering support missions in California and other areas,” the statement said.
POLITICO notes that on Monday, rumors of a migrant “rush” led to a border crossing between San Diego, CA, and Tijuana, Mexico closing to northbound traffic for several hours.
Tijuana’s mayor says there are already thousands of migrants in the city, prompting some clashes between members of the caravan and local residents; he expects the groups’ numbers to swell to nearly 10,000 within the coming weeks.
Considering the trend and predicted uptick in migrant arrivals, Buchanan said that “the actual behavior of the caravans is more and more headed toward Tijuana, so while I’ve got to keep some forces in Texas, I’ve now shifted my main effort to California.”
In Washington, several of Trump’s attempts to curb the migrant caravan’s progress have been stymied by the judiciary. On Monday, a federal judge halted an order to deny asylum applications field by immigrants who’d cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
And another POLITICO report claims that the Pentagon has repeatedly denied ‘requests from the Department of Homeland Security that troops go beyond’ their current mission by ‘providing an armed backup to Border Patrol agents.’
Trump, says POLITICO, may be fast running out of options to close the border to would-be migrants.
“Are there any other legal gimmicks they can pursue?” asked John Sandweg, former Department of Homeland Security acting general counsel under Obama. “No.”
“The Obama administration tried to find some ways to stem the flow from Central America, but over time realized that there’s no easy solution,” he said. “The Trump administration tries to talk in simple ways, sound bites. But it’s not simple.”