Pentagon drops mentions of border mission's name; migrants weigh staying in Mexico

Posted at 1:37 PM, Nov 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-07 16:37:04-05

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon has stopped calling the deployment of troops to the U.S.-Mexico border "Operation Faithful Patriot," dropping the name even as thousands of American forces head to southern Texas, Arizona and California.

According to U.S. officials, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis directed the department to stop using the name and simply describe the mission as military operations on the border. The change was ordered early this week, but no reason was given.

Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, would only say that the department is no longer using the name. But other U.S. officials said Mattis didn't like the name and believed it was distracting from the troops' actual mission, which is in support of the border patrol. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations.

The name hasn't been formally changed or rescinded, but the Pentagon has stopped using it in press releases and documents.

Pentagon officials rolled out the name last month after President Donald Trump ordered thousands of active duty troops to the southwest border in response to a caravan of migrant families walking slowly north through Mexico toward the U.S.

As of Wednesday, more than 5,600 troops have been deployed to Texas, Arizona and California and are mainly in staging bases. Only about 500 troops are actively supporting operations on the border, and many of those have been installing coils of razor wire and erecting tents to house U.S. troops and border patrol.

The military says it will deploy a total of about 7,000 troops, but has left open the possibility that the number could grow. Last week, Trump said he would send as many as 15,000 troops. There also have been about 2,100 National Guard troops operating along the border for months as part of a separate but related mission.

The Pentagon still has refused to release any cost estimates for the troop deployment.

The name adjustment was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile in Mexico, the caravan is weighing whether or not to stay in the country or continue their journey to the U.S. 

Mexico City officials said they expected as many as 1,000 more might arrive at the Jesus Martinez stadium as lagging members of the caravan trail in, their journeys slowed by difficulties in getting rides or by hopping aboard trucks that veered off their route.

Angel Eduardo Cubas of La Ceiba, Honduras, reached the shelter early Wednesday after being split off from the caravan. Like many migrants he had to find his way back to the relative safety of the caravan in an unfamiliar country, with no money.

"There were a lot of people who got dropped off somewhere else," said Cubas, who at one point lost his two children, 2 and 6, before finding them again. "It was ugly, going around looking" for his kids, the 28-year-old father said.

Members of the caravans of migrants, which President Donald Trump made a central issue in U.S. midterm elections, declined to take an immediate decision Tuesday night on whether to stay in Mexico or continue north, opting to remain in the capital at least a couple more days.

"Nobody is in more of a hurry than me to get going (to the U.S. border), but we have to go all together," said Sara Rodriguez of Colon, Honduras.

Rodriguez, 34, fled her country with her 16-year-old daughter Emily, after the girl began to draw unwanted attention from a drug trafficker who just got of prison and pledged to go after her. Rodriguez left her 7-year-old son with her husband in Honduras. "Even though it hurts to leave my son ... I had to protect her," Rodriguez said, weeping.

Mexico has offered refuge, asylum or work visas to the migrants and the government said 2,697 temporary visas had been issued to individuals and families to cover them while they wait for the 45-day application process for a more permanent status.

Rina Valenzuela, who is from El Salvador, listened attentively to aid workers from the nonprofit Institute for Women in Migration as they explained the difficulties of applying for and securing asylum in the U.S. Valenzuela decided she would better off applying for refuge in Mexico.

"Why go fight there, with as much effort and as much suffering as we have gone through, just for them to turn me back? Well, no," she said.

Hundreds of city employees and even more volunteers helped sort donations and direct migrants toward food, water, diapers and other basics. Migrants searched through piles of donated clothes, grabbed boxes of milk for children and lined up to make quick calls home at a stand set up by the Red Cross.

Employees from the capital's human rights commission registered new arrivals with biographical data— such as age and country of origin— and placed yellow bracelets on wrists to keep count of the growing crowd.

Maria Yesenia Perez, 41, said there was no space in the stadium when she and her 8-year-old daughter arrived Tuesday night, so the two from Honduras slept on the grass outside. Migrants pitched tents in the parking lot and constructed makeshift shelters from plywood covered with blankets and tarps. Forty portable toilets were scattered across the grass.

Several smaller groups were trailing hundreds of miles to the south; officials estimated about 7,000 in all were in the country in the caravans.

Trump portrayed the caravan as a major threat, though such caravans have sprung up regularly over the years and largely passed unnoticed.

Former Honduran lawmaker Bartolo Fuentes, who denies accusations he started the caravan, described it as a natural response "to a situation more terrible than war." He said about 300 to 400 Hondurans leave their country on an average day.

"What do we have here then? The accumulation of 20 days" of normal emigration, he said.