WASHINGTON -- Even as hundreds more National Guard troops deploy this week to the U.S. border with Mexico, immigration authorities warned Thursday that thousands of additional people will be needed.
"Right now the National Guard is absolutely necessary. We have to have a floor, not a ceiling, of 21,370 agents, and right now we are at 19,300," said Brandon Judd of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents 18,000 federal agents.
"We are so below our mandated number, we do need help," Judd added during his testimony before the House Subcommittee on National Security.
President Donald Trump ordered 2,000 to 4,000 National Guard troops to the border April 4, amid news of a caravan of 1,200 Central American migrants bound for the Mexican border with the United States. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said the Pentagon would cover deployment costs.
Trump tweeted about the migrant group, calling on Congress to immediately pass homeland security-related legislation.
"Our Border Laws are very weak while those of Mexico & Canada are very strong. Congress must change these Obama era, and other, laws NOW!" the president wrote.
Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and California have deployed National Guard troops to the border, but the numbers are initially less than the president's goal.
Michael Breen of the Truman Center testified at the same hearing that the $400 million bill for the troop deployment through the end of the fiscal year -- Sept. 30 -- will "negatively impact readiness" for the Guard and do "precious little" to improve border security.
"What we do not in fact face is a true crisis or emergency on the border," Breen said. "We face challenges of course, but these challenges are best addressed by strengthening the institutions we already have ... not by using the military."
Sulma Arias, immigration field director for the Fair Immigration Reform Movement, said the deployment of National Guard troops will advance a xenophobic agenda by deepening fears of immigrants.
"[Trump] is trying to create this rhetoric and chaos that really fires up his base, he continues to make us into something we are not and demonize people who are only coming here because they have a well-founded fear of their country of origin," Arias said.
The 1,200 migrants seeking asylum are primarily from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, countries ravaged by gang violence, poverty and drugs, and traveling with guidance from the immigration advocacy group Pueblo Sin Fronteras.
The caravan began traveling in late March, but by early April it had reduced in size as Mexican authorities deported or detained many of the migrants. A smaller number of about 200 say they plan to attempt to cross the U.S. border.
Illegal crossings into the southern border of the United States were at a 46-year low at the end of 2017 and border apprehensions were at a four-year low, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Dave Ray at the Federation for American Immigration Reform supports the troop deployments.
"Clearly without adequate control of the border, our nation lacks the ability to keep out violent criminals, drug lords and illegal immigrants who are coming to steal American jobs," Ray said in a telephone interview.