18:59 GMT +323 October 2019
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    Pentagon to Expand Role of Military at US-Mexico Border - Report

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    The soldiers will be tasked with conducting immigration application hearings, picking up migrants at the border and bringing food to migrants in detention.

    The Pentagon is preparing to expand the role of the military along the US-Mexico border, loosening the long-standing "no contact with migrants" policy, the Washington Post reported Friday, citing internal Pentagon documents.

    Several senior Pentagon officials have reportedly recommended that acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan approve a request from the Department of Homeland Security to provide military lawyers, cooks and drivers to assist US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents amid the surge of immigration along the Mexican border.

    According to the proposal, military attorneys will assist with deportation hearings in order to speed up the process. Thousands of migrants apprehended by CBP have to be released into the community while their asylum applications are being reviewed, due to detention facilities already being overcrowded. The military lawyers would be detailed to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and would be supervised by ICE personnel, the document says.

    The overwhelmed CBP is experiencing an "especially acute" shortage of drivers and people who can escort migrants to hospitals, the Washington Post reports. According to the report, migrants who cross the US border illegally en masse have taken to simply sitting down and waiting until CBP comes in with trucks and buses to pick them up as they surrender to the agents.

    Interestingly, the document specifically states that the military drivers would remain in a "segregated driver's compartment," in an apparent attempt to quell fears that the soldiers will be given a law enforcement role. According to the document, CBP will provide security measures during transportation.

    The soldiers will also be tasked with humanitarian tasks such as handing over snacks and refreshments or checking on the welfare of migrants in detention, freeing up CBP agents for migrant processing and border protection. However, soldiers will have to be accompanied by law enforcement personnel as they carry out their duties, the Washington Post reports.

    Shanahan is expected to sign the DHS request Friday, according to the Post. The measure is estimated to cost $21.9 million through the end of fiscal year 2019.

    Thousand of migrants, originating predominantly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, have traveled across Mexico, aiming to enter US territory illegally, sometimes in groups of hundreds of people in broad daylight. The CBP has long said its staff is overwhelmed by the surge of migration and has called on Congress to approve construction of a physical barrier along the entirety of the US-Mexican border.

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    Tags:
    staff, border, request, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), US Department of Defense (DoD), Mexico, United States
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