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U.S. will send over 5,200 troops to U.S.-Mexico border in response to caravans

The Homeland Security and Defense Departments announced the deployment of thousands of troops to the Southwest U.S. border in anticipation of the arrival of large migrant caravans

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said Monday at a press conference at the Defense Department that these "enhanced operations" are in direct response to the two large migrant caravans traveling through Mexico and Central America — including the record 3,500 strong group in southern Mexico and another made up of approximately 3,000 migrants that recently formed and that is now at the Guatemala-Mexico border.  

In addition, McAleenan noted that, on a daily basis, almost 1,900 individuals are apprehended attempting to cross the southern border illegally or coming to a port of entry without documentation. He said half of these individuals are part of family units. Among those illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, McAleenan stressed, are criminals and "hardened smugglers." He added that the country's immigration system makes it difficult for the government to expatriate these individuals. 

CBS News' David Martin reported Monday that the plan, Operation Faithful Patriot, calls for sending 1,800 troops to Texas, 1,200 to Arizona and 1,500 to California. However, officials say no final decisions have been made, and the numbers could go higher. These numbers mark an increase over the initial estimate last week that 800 troops would be deployed. There is not yet a cost estimate for this operation.

McAleenan said the formation of multiple large groups — like the migrant caravans — present new security threats. He claimed that the caravan at the Guatemala-Mexico border is employing "violent and dangerous" tactics. And he emphasized that, as President Donald Trump has made clear, the U.S. will not allow a large group to enter the country illegally, and advised migrants to seek asylum in Mexico, where he said the government is offering migrants protection and employment authorization. 

Because of these new security developments, McAleenan said that DHS requested help from the Pentagon. There are already 2,000 National Guardsmen are already stationed at the border. The additional troops will not go straight to the border, but will instead deploy to staging areas in Texas, Arizona and California, where they will be briefed and trained on their mission. Troops will come from bases across the U.S., including Forts Bragg, Campbell, Knox, Carson, and Steward, as well as Joint Base Lewis-McChord, among others. 

North American Aerospace Defense Command Gen. Terrence John O'Shaughnessy said the Defense Department has a long history of helping DHS and this operation is the newest example of that strong relationship. He noted that the chief task of these military units will be to help DHS "harden" the U.S.-Mexico border. 

General O'Shaughnessy said the Pentagon is deploying U.S Army Corps Engineers, three combat engineering battalions with heavy equipment, military planning teams, three medium helicopter companies which can operate at night, military police units (MPs), three C-130 cargo planes and medical and logistical units. 

O'Shaughnessy also said 800 soldiers are already on their way to Texas, and that in total, over 5,200 soldiers will be deployed to the southern border at DHS' request.

David Martin contributed to this report.