Trump may send volunteer force to border

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The Trump administration may send a volunteer emergency response team to assist with security and humanitarian efforts at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to four current and former officials briefed on the discussions.

With border arrest numbers on the rise, the Trump administration has been “casting about” for ways to devote additional resources to stem the flow of migrants, according to an official of the Department of Homeland Security who is familiar with the discussions.

“My question is, do they actually need more people on the border or are they just trying to make a statement here?’” asked Craig Fugate, who was FEMA administrator during the Obama administration.

A second DHS official similarly questioned the administration’s motives for considering the force. It “makes eminent sense for a hurricane,” this person said, but not for the border. “All of this is just to buttress the administration’s claim that there’s an emergency,” the official said.

To date, the Trump administration has deployed to the southern border hundreds of additional agents from its 19,443-strong Border Patrol force. It’s also sent 6000 active-duty and National Guard troops. Yet even though border crossings remain well below peak levels during the 1990s and early 2000s, President Donald Trump judges efforts to stem illegal immigration to be insufficient.

The president’s February declaration that illegal border crossings were a national emergency necessitating the spending of $6.7 billion unapproved by Congress suffered a blow Thursday when the Senate voted, 59-41, to block the declaration. Twelve Republicans voted with Democrats against the president.

“I sort of took this as, ‘Hey, here’s this new idea,” the first DHS official said of the volunteer force under consideration. “The lawyers are trying to figure out whether it’s possible at all.”

The Homeland Security Department maintains a “Surge Capacity Force” intended to “augment the federal response to a catastrophic disaster,” according to a webpage that details its operations. The unit is composed of volunteers, from DHS and other federal agencies, who are deployed in response to hurricanes and wildfires.

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