Trump Weighs Authorizing U.S. Troops to Medically Screen Migrants

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
troops migrants
U.S. Marines fortify concertina wire along the San Ysidro Port of Entry border crossing as seen from Tijuana, Mexico, Tuesday. (Reuters/Adrees Latif)

President Donald Trump’s administration is considering giving U.S. troops on the border with Mexico the authority to carry out medical screening of migrants, U.S. officials told Reuters on Tuesday.

The proposal, which is still in draft form and circulating within the administration, would involve the military in screenings for things like illness and injury only if U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency personnel were overwhelmed and unable to do so on their own, the officials said.

The proposal would expand the mission for the Pentagon, which said previously it did not expect its forces to directly interact with migrants.

The Pentagon declined to comment.

U.S. military duties on the border, including stringing up concertina wire and building temporary housing, have been aimed at supporting CBP personnel.

The U.S. officials who spoke to Reuters about the proposal did so on condition of anonymity because President Trump has not yet signed off on the idea.

It was unclear if the proposal, if confirmed in the coming days, might prolong the deployment of at least some troops at the border.

In Tijuana and other ports of entry, CBP officers are trained to check migrants and travelers for obvious signs of infectious conditions, like fever, bleeding from the eyes or other symptoms of “quarantinable and communicable diseases,” according to a 2015 report by the Congressional Research Service.

One U.S. official said that under the latest proposal, U.S. troops would be the option of last resort to carry out medical screenings if other officials, such as from state and local governments or the National Guard, were not available or overwhelmed.

“The intent of the authorities is not to bring the troops in closer contact with the migrants but to provide medical assistance if needed,” the official said.

On Monday, Reuters reported that Trump was likely to give U.S. troops authority to protect immigration agents stationed along the U.S. border with Mexico if they come under threat from migrants seeking to cross into the United States.