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By Gabe Gutierrez, Bianca Seward and Annie Rose Ramos
DONNA, Texas – About 1,000 of the 5,600 troops that stationed the Pentagon on the US-Mexico border are in the McAllen region.
A camp full of tents and military equipment in Donna is growing day by day. While some troops are installing barbed wire fences, others are preparing a medical tent.
"One of the most unique things in my experience was the brief announcement," said Cmdr. Sgt. Maj. Matt Howard told NBC News. "Most people did not even know that mission would exist."
Of the mission ordered by President Donald Trump, 2,800 troops were sent to Texas, 1,500 to Arizona, and 1,300 to California.
One day after the midterm elections, the Pentagon announced that it was no longer calling the operation "Operation Faithful Patriot", but simply calling it "frontier support." No reason was given. But this gives strength to skeptics who say the operation was a political trick to arouse the fear of immigration.
Last week, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said, "We're not doing stunts."
At the beginning of this year, 2,000 National Guard soldiers were sent to the border.
Citing two defense officials, CNBC reports that troops could cost at least $ 220 million by the end of the year.
The troops will not be able to arrest immigrants without papers. The military said the mission provides mainly logistic support for customs and border protection, which includes the provision of helicopters for the transport of agents.
On Friday, the Border Patrol announced it had arrested a group of nearly 100 migrants.
Raul Ortiz, deputy head of the Rio Grande sector, said his agents have experienced more and more illegal crossings in recent months, and the detention area in South Texas is near capacity.
"We pretty much kept around 3,000 people in prison," he said.
The troops who talked to NBC News in Donna said they focused on the mission, not politics.
"What I tell my soldiers is we are soldiers," Howard said. "We follow orders, the people over us have given us legitimate orders, let people handle it higher."
The schedule for the mission is in the air.
"Honestly, a lot of it is subjective, based on the caravan and all that," said Army Medic Mike Shaver of Florida.
Caravan still hundreds of kilometers away
There are currently three caravans in Mexico with a total of about 10,000 people. The closest is still hundreds of miles from the United States.
Five days after the authorities opened the Jesús Martínez Palillo Stadium in Mexico City, the venue is overflowing with over 5,000 migrants. More thousands are expected to arrive in the coming days.
About six large tents are completely filled. From the stadium, people rushed to the parking lot and set off wherever they could find themselves and their families.
It is a crucial stop for the migrants in this caravan. You can rest, get much needed medical attention, and find out what's next.
Mexican officials have committed to provide migrants with information on asylum seekers in Mexico and the United States. A majority of migrants initially made their way to the United States and would like to continue doing so.
Between the medical tents and the area where meals are served there is a small tent with an outside labeled "Informacion para pedir asilo en E.E.U.U." or "Information on asylum application in the United States".
A group of migrants heard Anna Joseph, a volunteer of the Institute for Women in Migration. Joseph explained how the asylum application in the US expires.
"People have no idea what awaits them in the United States and how President Trump has politicized this caravan," Joseph said.
During her lecture on asylum, which Joseph gives several times during the day, she shows photos of detention camps such as the Tornillo Prison or the "Tent City" in South Texas, where the government hosts 1,500 unaccompanied minors.
Volunteers from the Institute for Women in Migration also show migrant photos of the troops stationed at the southern border.
"Many people hear rumors about what's going on in the US, and it sounds so bad they think it's invented," Joseph said. "Sometimes we show photos to say, 'No, that really happened. "The attempt to help people understand the situation has become."
Heidy, 39, and her daughter, Yuraini, 19, were among the thousands who camped outside the stadium because there was no room for them. Mother and daughter say they are too much at risk to live as women in Honduras under the gang violence.
Heidy, who did not want to reveal her surname, said she heard about family divisions in the United States and worried that her daughter was legally grown and that officials would separate the two.
"But what's left for us to go to the US border?" Heidy asked. Her daughter Yuraini wants to study medicine and anthropology in America. "I'm smart," she said, "I can study both."
The two, who are both ill, rest five or six days in Mexico City and try to recover from the grueling journey before moving on to the United States.
You are confronted with more obstacles.
On Friday, Trump signed a proclamation that made it difficult for them to apply for asylum if they were caught crossing the border between the designated ports of entry.
Asylum seekers who do not pass through ports of entry are arrested, detained and deported unless they can reach a higher bar, for example, being tortured when they are sent home.
The American Civil Liberties Union quickly sued the new restrictions and described them as a "ban on asylum".
Gabe Gutierrez and Bianca Seward reported from Donna, Texas; Annie Rose Ramos reported from Mexico City.
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