Trump: Additional Border Troops Will Be Armed After Incident With Mexican Soldiers

April 24, 2019 Updated: April 24, 2019

Additional troops sent to the U.S.–Mexico border will be armed, President Donald Trump said after two U.S. soldiers were held at gunpoint and questioned by Mexican troops on the U.S. side of the border.

“Mexico’s Soldiers recently pulled guns on our National Guard Soldiers, probably as a diversionary tactic for drug smugglers on the Border. Better not happen again!” Trump said in an April 24 tweet. “We are now sending ARMED SOLDIERS to the Border. Mexico is not doing nearly enough in apprehending & returning!”

There are about 5,000 troops deployed at the border, including some 3,000 active-duty and 2,100 National Guard members, The Military Times reported on April 10.

Their mission is to reinforce border barriers and provide logistical support to the Border Patrol, amid a surge in illegal border crossings this year.

Army soldiers walk toward the mess tent where troops deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border are enjoying a Thanksgiving meal on a base near the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge in Donna
Army soldiers walk toward the mess tent where troops deployed to the U.S.–Mexico border are enjoying a Thanksgiving meal on a base near the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge in Donna, Texas, on Nov. 22, 2018. (Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images)

The military can’t engage in domestic law enforcement unless authorized by Congress, but it can potentially use lethal force in defense of the border agents.

Most of the troops were deployed without their service weapons, then-Defense Secretary Gen. Jim Mattis said in November 2018.

Military Incident

The incident with Mexican soldiers occurred on April 13, when “five to six Mexican military personnel questioned two U.S. Army soldiers who were conducting border support operations in an unmarked (Customs and Border Protection) vehicle near the southwest border in the vicinity of Clint, Texas,” U.S. Northern Command told CNN in a statement.

The Mexican soldiers pointed their weapons at the U.S. troops, removed a soldier’s sidearm, and returned it to the unmarked U.S. vehicle, two U.S. defense officials told CNN.

“The U.S. soldiers were appropriately in U.S. territory” during the encounter, the statement said, explaining that the Mexicans thought they were on their side of the border, possibly because the Rio Grande River, which marks the border, was dried up in that area and because the U.S. troops were south of the border fence, which is inside U.S. territory.

Caravans

Trump began to deploy troops to the border in April 2018 as migrants from Central America started to form larger caravans, in an apparent attempt to rush the border. After deployment of some 2,000 National Guard troops, Trump added active-duty troops in October 2018, as the caravans continued to grow in size and frequency.

The situation has only intensified since. Apprehensions of illegal border crossers have more than doubled in the first half of fiscal 2019, compared with the same period the previous year, and are on track to reach a million this year, up from less than 400,000 in fiscal 2018.

About two-thirds of the migrants arrive as families and unaccompanied children, mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, who usually surrender to border agents and then use loopholes in U.S. immigration laws to be released into the interior. The caravans, however, seem to be mostly adult men. They appear organized and, at times, turn violent.

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A group of Central American migrants climb the border fence between Mexico and the United States as others try to bring it down, near El Chaparral border crossing, in Tijuana, Baja California State, Mexico, on Nov. 25, 2018. (Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images)

“A very big Caravan of over 20,000 people started up through Mexico,” Trump said in an April 24 tweet. “It has been reduced in size by Mexico but is still coming. Mexico must apprehend the remainder or we will be forced to close that section of the Border & call up the Military. The Coyotes & Cartels have weapons!”

Migrants, most of whom are part of a recently arrived caravan, at a migrant hostel in Piedras Negras, Mexico
Migrants, most of whom are part of a recently arrived caravan, at a migrant hostel in Piedras Negras, Mexico, on Feb. 9, 2019. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

It’s well known to border security officials that the human smuggling routes used by the migrants are controlled by organized crime groups, and the Mexican drug cartels are profiting mightily from the migrants, who have acknowledged they pay thousands of dollars to the smugglers, who are nicknamed “coyotes.”

The caravans have been aided, and even organized, by left-wing activist groups. The participants have repeatedly overwhelmed security at Mexico’s southern border and forced their way in.

Border Shutdown

Trump has repeatedly warned that he would shut the southern border altogether, which would choke the bustling flow of people and goods in both directions, causing financial loss and inconvenience for Americans, but much more so for Mexicans. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador responded in March by saying that Mexico has to “bring order” to the migration and Trump has since given Mexico some credit for trying to stem the flow of migrants, but made it clear that it’s still not enough. He’s also emphasized that Congress needs to close the loopholes in immigration laws.

“Can anyone comprehend what a GREAT job Border Patrol and Law Enforcement is doing on our Southern Border. So far this year they have APPREHENDED 418,000 plus illegal immigrants, way up from last year,” Trump said in an April 24 tweet. “Mexico is doing very little for us. DEMS IN CONGRESS MUST ACT NOW!”

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab

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