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More Than 8,000 US Troops Deployed to Southern Border


This Oct. 29, 2018 photo provided by the U.S. Air Force shows deployers from Headquarters Company, 89th Military Police Brigade, Task Force Griffin getting ready to board a C-130J Super Hercules from Little Rock, Arkansas, at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

The number of U.S. troops deploying to the U.S. southern border has increased to more than 8,000, two U.S. defense officials told VOA Friday.

President Donald Trump ordered the troops to keep a caravan of asylum-seeking migrants from Central America from entering the U.S.

The officials described the active duty troops as “deployed, deploying, or identified to deploy” to help with border security in response to a request for help from the Department of Homeland Security.

FILE - U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen (L) speaks with Border Patrol agents near a newly fortified border wall structure, Oct. 26, 2018, in Calexico, Calif.
FILE - U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen (L) speaks with Border Patrol agents near a newly fortified border wall structure, Oct. 26, 2018, in Calexico, Calif.

"We just have a capacity issue, " Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in explaining the need for the troops. "What we've asked the [Department of Defense] to do is to support us."

Another 2,100 National Guard troops are already deployed along the southern border. Altogether, there are now more U.S. troops assisting border patrol agents than there are fighting terror groups in Iraq and Syria.

Speaking to reporters at the White House before leaving for another campaign-style rally in Huntington, West Virginia, to drum up support for Republican Senate contender Patrick Morrisey, Trump said Friday that troops would not shoot at migrants who had thrown rocks at them.

"I didn't say shoot. I didn't say shoot. But they do that with us, they're going to be arrested for a long time," Trump said.

A day earlier in his speech on immigration, Trump suggested he had directed the military to shoot migrants who throw rocks at U.S. border authorities. Experts and retired military officials have pointed out that such a directive would be unlawful because it violates U.S. military conventions.

Migrant lawsuit

Meanwhile, a group of the migrants traveling to the U.S. to seek asylum have filed a lawsuit against Trump.

Attorneys for six Honduran migrants filed the class-action lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Washington, alleging Trump violated their due process rights under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Salvadorean migrants climb and jump over a fence to get to the Guatemala-Mexico international border bridge in Ciudad Tecun Uman, Guatemala, on Nov. 2, 2018.
Salvadorean migrants climb and jump over a fence to get to the Guatemala-Mexico international border bridge in Ciudad Tecun Uman, Guatemala, on Nov. 2, 2018.

The suit cites a ruling by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote, "It is well established that the Fifth Amendment entitles aliens to due process of law in a deportation proceeding."

Trump has been using the migrant caravan to rally his Republican base before next week's midterm elections, declaring on several occasions its approach toward the U.S. constituted a "national emergency."

Trump again raised fears Thursday about undocumented immigrants and promised an executive order "sometime next week" that would severely restrict asylum-seekers.

President Donald Trump addresses the crowd during a campaign rally, Nov. 1, 2018, in Columbia, Mo.
President Donald Trump addresses the crowd during a campaign rally, Nov. 1, 2018, in Columbia, Mo.

At a political rally Thursday night in Columbia, Mo., Trump said several times that he also intended to end birthright citizenship. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees U.S. citizenship to anyone born in the United States. The president said at the rally that he was against "birth tourism," in which pregnant foreign women travel to the U.S. to give birth so that the babies can automatically be U.S. citizens.

Trump said he could change the 14th Amendment with an executive order, but many legal analysts disagree, maintaining the Constitution cannot be changed by executive order alone.

The president added that migrants attempting to seek asylum must make their requests at legal points of entry, and said he wanted to increase the detention of asylum-seekers.

A mounted detachment of the U.S. Border Patrol along the wall during U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's visit to the El Centro Sector in Calexico, California, U.S., Oct. 26, 2018.
A mounted detachment of the U.S. Border Patrol along the wall during U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's visit to the El Centro Sector in Calexico, California, U.S., Oct. 26, 2018.

As more troops arrive at the Texas-Mexico border, some military experts argue that sending troops to the border is a distraction from the military's top priority of being more "lethal" at war, as Defense Secretary James Mattis put it.

Former Department of Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge decried Trump's use of the U.S. military at the border, telling VOA, "They're not trained to deal potentially with a group of unarmed immigrants."

Retired Marine colonel and and current vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center David Lapan said deploying troops at the border "doesn't make any sense." He added, "This caravan, this group of poor people, including a lot of women and children, doesn't pose a threat, not a national security threat."

The migrants are still more than 1,000 kilometers from the U.S., a distance that will likely take at least several weeks for them to walk.

WATCH: Trump: Migrant Caravan Should Turn Back

Trump: Migrant Caravan Should Turn Back
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VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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    Patsy Widakuswara

    Patsy Widakuswara is VOA's Senior White House Correspondent. She joined Voice of America in March 2003. With over 20 years experience in international broadcast journalism, she currently reports via multi-media platforms from the White House where she focuses on delivering informative, engaging U.S. content to an international audience.

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    Jeff Seldin

    Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

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