Washington, US President Donald Trump has approved a memorandum that grants new authority to US troops on the Southwest border to protect Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel from migrants if they engage in violence, according to the Pentagon.
Department of Defence spokesperson Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza told CNN on Wednesday that the Pentagon had received the memorandum.
The White House memo authorises the troops to conduct activities such as “crowd control, temporary detention and cursory search”, according to the memorandum.
It allows troops to use “a show or use of force (including lethal force, where necessary)” in order to perform these protective activities.
While some have questioned whether active duty troops detaining and searching people on US soil constitutes law enforcement, the memo, which is signed by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, said that US troops “shall not, without further direction from the President, conduct traditional civilian law enforcement activities, such as arrest, search, and seizure”.
“On detention we do not have arrest authority, detention — I would put it in terms of minutes, in other words if someone’s beating on a border patrolman and if we were in a position to have to do something about it we could stop them from beating on them and take them over and deliver them to a border patrolman who would then arrest them for it,” Secretary of Defence James Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
The decision comes as a large group of migrants is arriving at the US-Mexico border.
More than 2,000 Central American migrants arrived in the border city of Tijuana in recent days, and about 3,000 more migrants were estimated to be in Mexicali, Mexico, another border city about 100 miles away.
Until this new authority was granted, troops were not allowed to intervene if CBP personnel came under attack unless they needed to act in their own self-defence.
The Pentagon has been working for the last several days on options for how troops can protect CBP. There are 5,800 to 5,900 troops assigned to the border mission, CNN said.
Trump has said he will deploy as many as 15,000 troops if needed to push back against the group of migrants who are planning on asking for asylum.
On Tuesday, Trump told reporters that the troops “are proud to be on the border. They are proud to be defending our nation. And we are not letting people in”.