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Trump says caravan threat from Mexico breaks up before National Guard arrives

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 4/5/2018 Doug Stanglin

President Trump, who claimed a "crisis" forced him to order National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, said Thursday that a border-bound caravan of some 1,000 migrants fleeing violence in Central America had broken up inside Mexico.

The president has been tweeting about the caravan since Sunday after the Fox News program Fox & Friends and other media outlets reported a group of more than 1,000 migrants was traveling to the U.S. border and Mexican authorities were doing little to stop them.

The caravan was marching northward to draw attention to their plight, with most heading to official U.S. border crossings to apply for asylum and some hoping to break off and cross illegally.

Under pressure from both countries, the migrants, who were largely traveling as a group as protection against criminals, will disband in Mexico City after some of the hundreds of migrants requested documents to stay in Mexico. 

Mexico, in turn, announced it deported about 400 of the migrants, while also processing requests from migrants for documents to stay in the country.

In his first tweet of the day Thursday, Trump noted the feared caravan invasion was no longer a threat, then shifted the focus to illegal drug smuggling.

"The Caravan is largely broken up thanks to the strong immigration laws of Mexico and their willingness to use them so as not to cause a giant scene at our Border," he tweeted. "Because of the Trump Administrations actions, Border crossings are at a still UNACCEPTABLE 46 year low. Stop drugs!

While some in the caravan will drop out, others will continue on their own to the U.S. to apply for asylum, Alex Mensing, an organizer with the advocacy group Pueblo Sin Fronteras, told The Arizona Republic

The migrant caravan, which left Chiapas, Mexico's most southern state, on March 25 is "still together, arranging documents with MX immigration, next stop Puebla, then meet with gov agencies, then many will go separate ways to apply for asylum in MX or USA," Mensing told the newspaper by text.

More: Trump suggests he will send U.S. troops to the Mexican border

More: Trump keeps focus on caravan of Honduran asylum seekers headed to U.S.

More: President Trump orders National Guard to the Mexican border

In his tweets in recent days, the president has threatened to end the North American Free Trade Agreement and blamed Democrats, Mexico and Central American countries for allowing migrants and drugs to flow into the U.S.

a group of people lying on a bed: A boy sits awake as Central American migrants traveling with the annual "Stations of the Cross" caravan sleep at a sports club in Matias Romero, Oaxaca State, Mexico, Tuesday, April 3, 2018. © Felix Marquez/Associated Press A boy sits awake as Central American migrants traveling with the annual "Stations of the Cross" caravan sleep at a sports club in Matias Romero, Oaxaca State, Mexico, Tuesday, April 3, 2018.

On Wednesday, Trump formally ordered the Pentagon and Homeland Security to deploy National Guard troops to the Mexican border to stem illegal crossings and drug trafficking, saying the situation at the border "has now reached a point of crisis."

"The lawlessness that continues at our southern border is fundamentally incompatible with the safety, security, and sovereignty of the American people," he tweeted. "My administration has no choice but to act."

The decision comes as new statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection show the number of people caught trying to illegally cross the southwest border in fiscal year 2017 was 303,916, the lowest since 1971. Those numbers continued to fall in the first six months of fiscal year 2018.

From October to March, the total number of people caught trying to cross the southwest border — 173,599 — is down 13% compared to the same time period the previous year.

Through February, the number of unaccompanied minors dropped 36% over the previous year's same time period, and the number of family units — parents traveling with minor children — declined 46% over that time.

In March, 37,393 immigrants were caught along the southwest border, the highest monthly total since December 2016.

The renewed emphasis on border security comes less than two weeks after Trump supporters criticized him for signing a spending bill that did not fund the border wall.

While Trump and aides hailed a recent downturn in illegal immigration, they also claimed a recent spike requires action.

"We've recently seen the numbers of illegal border crossings rise from 40-year lows last April to back to previous levels," said Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a group that advocates on behalf of immigrants, said the president is responding to "criticism from the likes of (commentator) Ann Coulter and Fox News" over the lack of funding for the wall. He denounced the idea of using troops to perform law enforcement duties that are already succeeding.

"Trump’s National Guard ploy is just plain stupid," Sharry said.

In 2010, about 1,200 Army Guard soldiers provided surveillance and support for the U.S. Border Patrol under an initiative by then-President Obama. The personnel were not authorized to make arrests.

Similarly, for two years beginning in 2006, about 6,000 troops were deployed in border states. The initiative, Operation Jump Start, started by then-President George W. Bush, was credited for reducing illegal immigration and drug trafficking in Yuma and elsewhere.

In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey said Wednesday that he supports sending National Guard troops to the border, but sheriffs for four border counties seem conflicted over the planned deployment, The Arizona Republic reported.

Some of the sheriffs question the need for such measures, but all agree the National Guard's mission should be defined beforehand, and that their agencies should be in the conversation with the federal and state governments about those plans.

“We want to make sure that they have a clear understanding of what role they play, compared to the role we play,” Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels said.

Dannels said he expressed those concerns to Ducey's office on behalf of the state's sheriffs. Dannels defended Trump’s right to deploy the National Guard to the border, given the limited success he’s had in Congress.

“One thing I say, the military has a different form of rules of engagement than what law enforcement does,” he added. “Their roles and their mission are different, so that’s where we’re gonna find what is acceptable.”

The other three sheriffs were more reticent about the deployment. During previous deployments the troops worked with Border Patrol, not with the sheriff’s offices.

“I don’t see a need down here from the sheriff’s perspective about the military being needed,” Yuma County Sheriff Larry Wilmot said. His county makes up the state’s largest stretch of international boundary with Mexico, just slightly larger than Pima County.

Wilmot credits Bush's Operation Jump Start with contributing to a significant decrease in countywide criminal traffic. But he said the situation today is much different, largely because of the construction of border barriers that guard troops helped install in the area back then.

To date, neither the White House nor Ducey’s office has released details about the potential costs of deploying the National Guard to the border.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada, an outspoken critic of Trump’s border enforcement policies, said the president was trying to “bully Congress into giving him what he wants” — money for his border wall.

Estrada represents the smallest county in the state, but it remains one of the busiest for drug enforcement. With three international crossings around Nogales, Arizona’s chief border city, he said a better focus would be on beefing up the ports of entry to stem drug smuggling there.

“Militarizing the border is not the answer,” he said. “I look at it as, when you do stuff like that, it’s like we’re at war with immigrants.”

Contributing: David Jackson in Washington; Daniel Daniel González, Richard Ruelas and Rafael Carranza, The Arizona Republic



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