Biden ends emergency declaration at U.S.-Mexico border, where thousands of troops remain

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A U.S. Border Patrol agent sits on a horse in front of a U.S.-Mexico border wall prototype while patrolling in San Diego on Oct. 30. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Daniel Acker

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, ended the 2019 national emergency that triggered barrier construction on the U.S.-Mexico border, along with the mobilization of thousands of troops.

The emergency declaration by President Donald Trump, which included siphoning billions from the Defense Department to construct a border wall, was “unwarranted,” Biden told lawmakers weeks after pausing wall construction as one of his first decrees.

But the president has not addressed what will become of the larger mission for thousands of troops, most of them members of the thinly stretched National Guard, who have conducted operations in support of law enforcement for more than two years. The mission is authorized through Sept. 30.

“I don’t have any changes to that mission to read out as a result of the president’s decision,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Thursday. The White House did not return a request for comment Friday.

About 3,600 service members are currently on the border, carrying out missions like transportation for federal officers, aviation support, vehicle maintenance and monitoring surveillance cameras, defense officials have said. In one of the earliest deployments in 2018, soldiers helped tend Border Patrol horses by feeding them, and in some cases, shoveling their manure.

The overwhelming majority of service members on the border are drawn from the National Guard on federal active duty status.

But it’s just one of numerous mobilizations the National Guard has faced in the past few years, including coronavirus missions, wildfire evacuations and civil unrest details, including nearly 25,000 activated to support security operations for the inauguration. Last year saw the most activations among National Guard members since World War II.

The Pentagon’s mission to support law enforcement along the border began in 2018, after Trump declared migrant caravans traveling from Central America to the U.S. southern border amounted to “an invasion.”

Numbers of mobilized troops have fluctuated, though the highest mark came last summer with 5,500 troops deployed on the border, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell said.

“These missions can be supported with manageable impacts to readiness, and are contingent on the availability of funds and the continued statutory authority to provide such support,” Mitchell said.

The mission’s impact on the overall ability for the military to do its job is continually assessed by the Pentagon. Some of the tasks carried about by troops included painting bollard walls black to absorb heat and discourage climbing.

The cost of the mission through last year is $939 million, according to Pentagon figures.

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