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Mattis: Military necessary at US-Mexico border

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said he believes that the US military presence is necessary. He called it an "ethical and moral mission."

In a visit to McAllen, Texas, on Wednesday alongside embattled Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Mattis told some of the deployment’s 7,000 troops in surprisingly personal terms that it was critical to stop some individuals from seeking asylum in the United States.

“My mother is an immigrant, okay?” he told service members gathered in a tent. Mattis’s mother immigrated from Canada as an infant. “Believe me, we want legal immigration. That’s part of what makes America good, but illegal — we’re going to carry out the law.”

It’s worth noting that US troops can’t engage at all with incoming migrants — only Border Patrol officers can do that. The military, then, is at the border to back them up by providing office support, transportation, and building up infrastructure.

Mattis highlighted that last point, telling troops their efforts to put in concertina wire along the US-Mexico border will help ensure a safe distance between migrants and Border Patrol on the off-chance the situation turns violent.

“It’s very clear that support to border police or Border Patrol is necessary right now,” he told the troops. “In the short term, do get the obstacles in so that the border patrolmen can do what they gotta do ... we don’t want them being injured.”

When asked about the mission in the long term, the secretary said the goals could possibly change depending on what happens in the coming weeks.

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