On Monday, the Trump administration announced that it is sending 5,200 troops to the southern border of the United States in apparent response to the so-called migrant caravans that are making their way north from Central America. On Sunday and Monday, uniformed agents of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol temporarily halted vehicles and foot traffic on the international bridge connecting El Paso, Texas, to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Armed officers checked documents, waving international travellers into the US. During tense moments, over the two days, some officers formed a phalanx of shields, while others covered their faces and stood at port arms while holding AR-15 style rifles, watching applicants seeking to cross the border.  On Monday in El Paso, it was a mild fall day that featured clear skies and a temperature of 81 F.

In response to a query from Spero News about the masked officers, CPB spokesman Roger Maier responded by quoting part of a Monday news conference that updated the media about operational preparedness undertaken by the agency. However, the response from the spokesman did not specifically address whether or not wearing face coverings is standard practice for the CPB. In Mexico, however, it is customary for police and military to cover their faces out of fear of reprisals. There have been numerous cases in which family members have been murdered when members of Mexican police and armed forces have been identified during raids in media reports. 

Having noted that American customs officers were masked, Mexican media reported that there was fear and worry on the part of Mexican nationals who cross the border on a daily basis. Diario de Mexico reported in a headline:  "Armed and hooded agents again shut down Paso del Norte bridge."

 However, CBP spokesman Rubén Jáuregui told the media that the bridges connecting Mexico and the US were not closed. There were, however, live readiness exercises by CBP. Juaregui said that the processing of persons crossing the border continued throughout the day on Monday. He called on the public to ignore non-official comments and gossip about the doings of the agency in charge of border security. Jauregui went on to say that similar readiness exercises have occurred in the past, albeit of shorter duration.

Local media reported that the masked officers stopped traffic for about 45 minutes in order to allow fellow officers to practice at the port of entry known as the “Santa Fe Bridge” because it is near Santa Fe Street in El Paso. A CPB helicopter was over head during the operation. "A temporary stoppage of traffic processing at the boundary line is not a closure," said Jauregui. "While some CBP officers are performing operational readiness exercises, which includes limiting access, other CBP officers at the primary inspection booths are concurrently processing arriving pedestrians and cars that have already crossed the line and are the U.S. side of the boundary. That certainly is not the definition of closed."

CPB is monitoring the current migrant caravan from Central America. Meanwhile, over the weekend, more than 50 persons (mostly from Central America) were seen preparing to enter the US. They were apparently not associated with the thousands who are in southern Mexico and determined to enter the U.S. after traveling the length of Mexico. 

A CPB spokesman says it is currently monitoring the caravan of Central American migrants on its way to the U.S. "We continually assess the capabilities of our facilities throughout the Southwest border and have been making - and will continue to make - necessary preparations. These include participating in operational readiness exercises and the mobilization of resources as needed to ensure the facilitation of lawful trade and travel," Jauregui said. Well in advance of the caravans, Jauregui said, "We will not allow a large group to enter the US unlawfully; we will act in accordance with the highest principles of law enforcement; and we will treat intending migrants humanely and professionally at all times. CBP's highest priority is the safety and security of the American people, the traveling public, CBP personnel and the communities in which we serve."

On Friday, CPB stopped the entry of several persons seeking asylum in the US at the El Paso port of entry. Among them were four nationals from Cuba, one from El Salvador, and four Russians, including two children and their parents. There was also a woman from Finland. Customs and Border Patrol has placed agents on the bridges to verify the visa status and documents of persons seeking to enter the US. According to sources in CPB, this proactive stance allows the agency to process international travelers quickly.




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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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