Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has approved a Homeland Security request to assign 320 “personnel” to babysit illegal immigrants, driving them, feeding them and checking on their welfare, the Pentagon announced Monday.
The goal is to free up Border Patrol agents currently assigned to those duties so they can get back to patrolling the front lines.
The troops Mr. Shanahan has assigned the new duties will not be engaged in actual law enforcement and there will be Homeland Security officers present to handle actual custody of illegal immigrants, and to provide protection to the troops themselves, said Lt. Col. Jamie Davis.
He said the deployment has been approved through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, at a cost of $7.4 million.
“DoD personnel will assist in driving high-capacity CBP vehicles to transport migrants; providing administrative support, including providing heating, meal distribution and monitoring the welfare of individuals in CBP custody; and attorney support to ICE,” he said in a statement.
The Border Patrol has been overwhelmed by the surge of illegal immigrants from Central America. More than 50,000 families were caught jumping the border in March alone, shattering previous records and swamping local communities where the migrants are being released.
Agents in some hard-hit areas are spending as much as 40 percent of their time engaged in welfare checks, transporting migrants for processing, or taking them to clinics or hospitals for medical checkups.
Customs and Border Protection, which oversees border operations, has already reassigned hundreds of officers from the ports of entry to assist with those babysitting duties, forcing closure of some lanes of traffic at ports of entry where the officers were taken from.
The Defense Department personnel will provide still more manpower for the support duties.
“DoD personnel will not perform any law enforcement functions,” Lt. Col. Davis said. “In any situation that requires DoD personnel to be in proximity to migrants, DHS law enforcement personnel will be present to conduct all custodial and law enforcement functions, and provide force protection of military personnel.”
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