Within hours of taking office, President Joe Biden rescinded the national emergency along the U.S.-Mexico border that launched the 2018 deployments of thousands of troops and spurred the rerouting of billions of Defense Department dollars into border barrier construction, and it’s possible those deployments will continue.
That mission is funded through September, the head of U.S. Northern Command told Military Times on Tuesday. And it could be extended , if Customs and Border Protection gets what it’s asked for.
“Homeland Security, CBP, would like to continue DoD support,” Air Force Gen. Glenn VanHerck said, referring to a current request for assistance.
There are currently 3,500 National Guard troops from 22 states assisting CBP along the southern border.
They don’t perform law enforcement, but they do perform surveillance ― both on the ground and with 24 UH-72 Lakota helicopters ― to spot attempts to cross the border, reporting them to CBP for follow-up.
They also do maintenance and repairs on CBP vehicles, VanHerck said, freeing up border patrol agents to focus on apprehension and detention.
For a brief time in 2020, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report, Texas Guardsmen were assigned to detention centers, as well as “providing welfare checks, distributing food, and driving trucks and vans.”
“In September 2019, the Secretary of Defense discontinued this mission after determining, with input from the Joint Staff, that personnel were not performing military functions and that continued support for the mission would negatively affect military readiness and morale,” according to the report.
The most recent update to troop levels came last summer, when then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued a new cap of 4,000 troops, down from the previous 5,500. Since then, officials have said there is no plan to draw troops down ahead of the end of the fiscal year.
“It’ll be the secretary’s decision, going forward,” VanHerck said, as to whether the deployments are extended past September, or whether troops go home sooner.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.