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US Sending Military Police To Two Border Crossings

In this Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016 file photo, U.S. Customs and Border Protection...

Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre / AP

Above: In this Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016 file photo, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers of the Special Response Team unit, patrol on the Paso del Norte Port of Entry in El Paso, Texas.

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The U.S. government says it's sending 160 military police and engineers to two official border crossings — San Diego and El Paso — to deal with asylum seekers in case a federal appeals court strikes down one of the Trump administration's key policies.

Aired: March 6, 2020 | Transcript

UPDATE: 5:05 p.m., March 6, 2020

The U.S. government says it is sending 160 military police and engineers to two official border crossings to deal with asylum seekers in case a federal appeals court strikes down one of the Trump administration's key policies.

Senior Customs and Border Protection officials said Friday that active-duty personnel will be in place by Saturday at ports of entry in El Paso and San Diego. They'll also send aviation support.

The deployment is in response to a crowd of asylum-seekers that gathered at an El Paso crossing last Friday after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily struck down the program known as “Remain in Mexico," which forces asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while their cases wind through court in the U.S. Officials shut down that border crossing for several hours that evening before the court reversed itself.

On Wednesday, the court again made a decision on the case, this time blocking the program in Arizona and California, the two border states under its authority. About 60,000 asylum-seekers have been returned to Mexico while awaiting their immigration hearings in the U.S.

Critics call the program inhumane and dangerous, forcing vulnerable people to wait in high-crime Mexican border cities where they are often subjected to violence, extortion and kidnapping.

But “Remain in Mexico,” which the government calls the Migrant Protection Protocols, has been one of the most successful tools in the administration's battle to stem the large number of asylum seekers looking for refuge in the U.S.

The Trump administration is asking the U.S. Supreme Court, which has consistently ruled in the administration's favor on immigration policies, to intervene and wants the policy to stay in effect until next week to give the high court time to decide.

In the meantime, authorities say they're preparing for more large groups of asylum seekers in case the appeals court strikes down the policy. Seeking asylum at ports of entry is legal, but the government has gone to great lengths to prevent migrants from doing so, including a “metering" policy that requires asylum-seekers to wait on an unofficial list for months before they are even allowed to walk up to a U.S. agent and seek protection.

CBP also cited coronavirus containment and mitigation concerns, as a reason for the influx of military police. But in San Ysidro on Friday, border-crossers haven’t seen any stepped up response to the spread of the Coronavirus.

Viviana Flores lives in the U.S. and travels to Mexico frequently. She crossed the border on Friday afternoon and saw no changes at the border.

"Everything is being pretty normal. Everything is pretty much the same," Flores said.

As of Friday, there are 10 people under observation for coronavirus in Baja California.

In an email, CBP told KPBS that agents at the border are still only doing immigration-related screenings. Signs telling people to wash their hands and other safety precautions have also been posted at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

CBP officials who provided the information on Friday provided few details about what exactly the military police will be doing, but did say military police won't be conducting immigration enforcement. They said the deployment is scheduled to last two weeks but could be extended if necessary. The deployed soldiers will come from Ft. Polk, Louisiana.

The Trump administration has used the National Guard at the border before, although they're not allowed to participate directly in law enforcement activities like arrests.

Since Remain in Mexico began a year ago, officials have increasingly hardened the El Paso Paso Del Norte bridge. Rolls of razor wire and forklifts with concrete barriers have been a regular fixture on the bridge for months, drawing the ire of local business leaders who say it turns off Mexican shoppers and visitors who keep the El Paso economy afloat.

Associated Press reporter Cedar Attanasio contributed from El Paso.

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Max Rivlin-Nadler
Speak City Heights Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover City Heights, a neighborhood at the intersection of immigration, gentrification, and neighborhood-led health care initiatives. I'm interested in how this unique neighborhood deals with economic inequality during an unprecedented global health crisis.

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