U.S. Military Refuses to Call Border Situation 'Crisis,' Raises Terrorism Concerns

Military commanders have refused to weigh in on whether the current situation at the U.S. southern border constitutes a "crisis," instead focusing on the dire domestic conditions in Central American nations that are driving migration waves northwards.

The commanders of the U.S. Northern Command and Southern Command told reporters at a joint briefing on Tuesday that the military is continuing to support President Joe Biden's efforts to bring a surge in migration under control, and raised concerns about terrorist and gang organizations using the chaos to infiltrate the country.

Air Force General Glen VanHerck, NORTHCOM commander, told reporters there are around 4,000 National Guard troops deployed to the border from 22 states to support the response to the migration surge and help COVID-19 antiviral measures there.

VanHerck said troops are currently at the border to support "detection and monitoring" of new arrivals, provide aviation support, and provide ground support to free up law enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, and Homeland Security officials.

Republicans have been pressing the president on what they are calling a border "crisis," demanding Biden revert to stricter immigration policies similar to those under former President Donald Trump.

The administration has refused to use the word "crisis" and partially blamed the chaos on the Trump administration's actions. Biden urged migrants on Tuesday not to travel north to the frontier.

Both VanHerck and SOUTHCOM commander Navy Admiral Craig Faller refused to term the situation a "crisis," citing several factors coming together to create a "perfect storm of instability" in Central America.

"I look at the violence and the insecurity in Central America, and I would say there is a crisis in Central America in terms of their ability to maintain their democracies and move forward in a way that sustains their personnel," Faller said, adding there is "horrific violence" occurring in Central American nations.

"On the border, I would say...that all nations deserve secure borders and that's part of what's got to be a layered defense," Faller added.

Pressed on whether the border situation was a crisis, Faller replied: "I'm not going to comment on something that's out of my area. There's a crisis in Central America."

VanHerck said the situation at the border is "a symptom of a broader problem" which "manifested itself over the last year or so."

He continued: "I'm not going to go into the politics of whether we name it a crisis or not...The fact of the matter is, we need a safe and secure border and understand who's coming across the border.

"Two major hurricanes, COVID, instability created by transnational criminal organizations, all of these are indicators and reasons why people want to leave Central America, South America and Mexico to come to our nation.

"When I say symptom, counternarcotics, migration, human trafficking, they're all symptoms of transnational criminal organizations who are operating oftentimes in ungoverned areas—30 percent to 35 percent of Mexico—that is creating some of the things we're dealing with at the border.

"What we see ongoing on the southern border is a compilation of multiple things—it's not a single thing—that have driven what we're seeing as far as migration into this country."

CBP told Congress this week it had detained four people whose names were the same as some on the FBI Terrorist Screening Database since October 1.

The database, created in 2003, includes people "known to be or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activities." As of 2017, there were some 1.16 million names on the list including 4,600 Americans.

VanHerck told reporters he has "seen intelligence that gives me reason to be concerned about what comes across the border...I can't go into the intelligence that I see with regard to what nations, what's coming across the border."

"Border security is national security," VanHerck added. "And we need to know exactly who is coming across that border and what their intent is."

US-Mexico border pictured as people cross
Asylum seekers walk past U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers while crossing into the United States from Mexico on March 16, 2021 in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. John Moore/Getty Images