WASHINGTON — When some of President Donald Trump’s top national security advisers gathered at the White House Tuesday night to talk about the surge of immigrants across the southern border, they discussed increasing the U.S. military’s involvement in the border mission, including whether the military could be used to build tent city detention camps for migrants, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the conversations.
During the meeting, the officials also discussed whether the U.S. militarycould legally run the camps once the migrants are housed there, a move the three officials said was very unlikely since U.S. law prohibits the military from directly interacting with migrants. The law has been a major limitation for Trump, who wants to engage troops in his mission to get tougher on immigration.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan was at the White House meeting Tuesday night and was open to sending more U.S. troops to support the border mission, so long as their assigned mission is within the law, according to the three U.S. officials.
Thousands of troops are currently deployed along the southern border, and are mainly used for reinforcing existing fencing with barbed wire.
Potential new projects for the troops that were mentioned Tuesday, according to the three officials — two from the Pentagon and one from Homeland Security — also included conducting assessments of the land before the construction of new tent cities in El Paso and Donna, Texas. They would also be used in assessments before construction of a new central processing center for migrants in El Paso, said the DHS official.
The creation of the processing center was announced last month. It is being designed to temporarily detain arriving immigrants, many of whom are being released in El Paso due to the lack of detention space.
The processing center will be similar to one currently used in McAllen, Texas, where children were kept in chain-link areas, which some called “cages,” while the Trump administration’s family separation policy was in effect last summer, according to two Customs and Border Protection officials.
The tent cities would hold immigrants while Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities continue to be at capacity. The Obama administration also used tents to hold immigrants in Donna, Texas, in 2016.
The idea has trickled down into planning meetings held this week at DHS, one of the officials said.
Discussions this week, at the White House meeting and afterward, have included the suggestion that troops may be needed to run the tent city detention camps once immigrants are being housed there, according to the U.S. officials familiar with the conversations.
The Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the use of federal troops for domestic law enforcement inside the U.S. This prevents them from direct interaction with immigrants crossing into the country. One U.S. official said recent meetings have included discussions about whether using active duty troops to run a detention camp would be a violation of Posse Comitatus.
While there has been discussion of an increase in troops, no specific numbers have been mentioned, and officials do not expect a large number of additional troops to be needed for any new mission.
A U.S. border patrol official speaking on the condition of anonymity said the military allows for faster construction than private contractors, who can protest decisions and slow down the process.
“The importance of DOD is that they are able to mobilize quickly because we face an immediate crisis now,” said the border patrol official.
As an example of the crisis, the border patrol official said on Tuesday, 253 Central Americans, mainly families were stopped in Santa Teresa, New Mexico. Large groups present a challenge for border agents who must process, shelter and often find medical care for immigrants.
The border patrol official said he is not aware of plans to use troops to run detention facilities for migrants and noted it would be in violation of U.S. law.
The White House meeting came just two days after Trump tweeted that his secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, was leaving and that Kevin McAleenan, the CBP commissioner, would replace her as acting secretary. DHS Acting Deputy Secretary Claire Grady has also resigned.
On Wednesday, during a visit to Texas, Trump spoke about increasing the number of U.S. troops assigned to the border mission and alluded to the limitations to using active duty troops there.
“I’m going to have to call up more military. Our military, don’t forget, can’t act like a military would act. Because if they got a little rough, everybody would go crazy. … Our military can’t act like they would normally act. … They have all these horrible laws that the Democrats won’t change. They will not change them.”
DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement, Defense Department spokesperson Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, said: “As we said last year when we were looking at possible facilities at Fort Bliss and Goodfellow Air Force Base, DOD could be involved in the possible construction of facilities to house immigrants. There are currently no new requests for assistance.”
(Reporting by NBC News)
US Treasury Department Rejects House Democrats Request On Trump Tax Returns
WASHINGTON (AP) — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (mih-NOO’-shin) says his department is unable to provide President Donald Trump’s tax returns to Congress by Wednesday’s deadline.
Mnuchin told House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, who made the request a week ago, that Treasury respects congressional oversight but needs more time to review the “unprecedented” request.
Mnuchin said Neal’s request raised important questions of “constitutional scope of congressional investigative authority, the legitimacy of the asserted legislative purpose, and the constitutional rights of American citizens.”
He quoted Capitol Hill Republicans who called the request “Nixonian” and who warned that it could set a precedent for disclosing personal tax information for political purposes.
US Treasury Reviewing House Request For 6 Years of Trump Tax Returns
WASHINGTON (AP) — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says his department intends to “follow the law” and is reviewing a request by a top House Democrat to provide President Donald Trump’s tax returns to lawmakers.
Mnuchin told a House panel that he has not had any communications with the president or his top staff about the department’s decision whether or not to provide Trump’s tax returns under a nearly century-old statute that says the Treasury Department “shall furnish” them when requested.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said in a Sunday show appearance that lawmakers will “never” see Trump’s returns.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal requested the returns last week in a letter to Mnuchin that set a deadline of Wednesday to provide them. Mnuchin says he “looks forward to responding.”
White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller Wants More Senior Leaders Out At Homeland Security
Washington (CNN) — White House senior adviser Stephen Miller wants to make sure that outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is only the first of a string of senior officials headed out the door.
Trump administration officials say that Miller, who played key a role in Nielsen’s ouster, also wants the President to dismiss the director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Lee Cissna, and the department’s general counsel, John Mitnick.
A senior administration official also said that under the law, DHS Under Secretary of Management Claire Grady, the current acting deputy secretary, is next in line of succession to be acting secretary. That means there are questions as to whether she will need to be fired as well in order to make Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan the acting DHS secretary, as Trump tweeted Sunday night.
Miller’s heightened influence within the West Wing has been aided by the President, who recently told aides in an Oval Office meeting that Miller was in charge of all immigration and border related issues in the White House, according to a person familiar with the meeting.
Miller has always informally been one of the leading hardliner voices on immigration in the West Wing. But this change formalizes that role and it also gives him the ability to call and chair meetings on immigration issues. This change was first reported by The Washington Post.
The sudden shift in personnel is indicative of the White House trying to redirect immigration policy following a surge of migrant apprehensions at the southern border in recent months.
The President has pushed in recent weeks to reinstate the family separation policy, which Nielsen resisted, a source familiar with the discussions says. Trump rescinded that policy amid public outrage and scrutiny from the courts last summer.
Additionally, after Trump walked back his threat to close the US-Mexico border and praised Mexico for doing more to stop the flow of immigrants, the President has since soured on his own walk back. By the end of the week, Trump became frustrated once again about the issues at the border, dissatisfied that Mexico was not doing enough and looking for his aides to take tougher steps to address the problem.
The changes have left the department in limbo, which has had at least three positions filled by people in an acting capacity in senior roles.
Late last week, the White House abruptly withdrew the nomination of Ron Vitiello for director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which caught both Congress and the department by surprise. Nielsen was unaware what was happening until after the nomination was pulled, a person familiar with the news said.
Asked about the mood at DHS following Nielsen’s resignation, one DHS official told CNN there was “some exasperation,” adding that the department doesn’t “have enough depth” to fill longtime vacancies.
“We are losing leadership faster than we can get it confirmed or even hired permanently,” the official said.
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