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Troops block vehicle lanes at Nogales border crossing

As the exodus of asylum-seeking Central Americans started to arrive at the U.S. border in Tijuana, Mexico, U.S. troops and Customs and Border Protection officers continue to harden the Nogales port, installing steel containers topped with razor wire at the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry, and demonstrating the tactics of riot police in front of the public. 

U.S. troops used steel CONEX shipping containers to seal off two of the downtown crossing's four vehicles lanes — leaving open two regular lanes and the two lanes for members of the SENTRI trusted-traveler program at the Dennis DeConcini Port of Entry, reported the Nogales International. 

Later Wednesday afternoon, CBP officers in riot gear marched out of the port building, and demonstrated their tactics using riot shields, later referred to as a "training exercise." Video from people standing in line at the outgoing lanes showed CBP officers from the Office of Field Operations march out in riot gear, complete with plastic shields, and move into the vehicle traffic lane. 

Last week, OFO officers in El Paso conducted a similar demonstration, which was originally scheduled to be carried out on Election Day but then delayed after a public outcry.

The changes come as part of an increased beefing up of the Nogales crossing that began last week when U.S. troops affixed concertina or "razor wire" to the top of the wall near the port, and on the rooftop of the Morley pedestrian gate, all in preparation for the "caravan" of people traveling on foot through southern Mexico, including about 1,000 children.

As the mid-term election drew near, the White House sounded the alarm about the group, and ordered the Defense Department to deploy 5,600 active-duty soldiers from more than 60 different units to the border, including around 1,500 troops sent to Arizona. 

Over the weekend, Mexican officials said that there were roughly 4,800 people seeking shelter in an stadium in Mexico City, offering a rough count of the number of people who are now walking on foot toward Querétaro, a city roughly 970 miles southeast of Nogales, Ariz., and about 390 miles south of McAllen, Texas. 

On Wednesday, some of the first members of the caravan, mostly made of LGBTQ migrants, arrived by bus in Tijuana, Mexico, and advocates were already scrambling to find lawyers and translators. 

The Associated Press reported that CBP said it was closing four lanes at San Diego ports of entry in response. 

A group of several hundred migrants moving ahead of the larger caravan of several thousand people arrived by bus in Tijuana, approximately 475 miles west of Nogales, Son., by highway on Tuesday, the AP said.

Last week, CBP officials at U.S. ports, including Nogales, made a major public relations push, asking asylum seekers to "please present yourself at the port of entry." During the event, Tucson Sector Chief Rodolfo Karisch, said "over the last few years, we have seen increases of Central American families," and the "status quo is not sustainable." 

"And, we haven't even started to talk about the caravan," he said. 

In mid-October, CBP's head said they were "well-prepared" for the caravan — then including around 7,000 people —  and downplayed the group, noting that they were walking on foot. 

"CBP has and will continue to prepare for the potential arrival of thousands of people migrating in caravans towards the United States border," said Meredith Minglesdorff, a Homeland Security spokeswoman. "These preparations include training exercises, deploying additional CBP personnel, and partnering with the U.S. military to harden ports of entry." 

Minglesdorff said that on Nov. 14, land ports in Arizona "began to ramp up operational readiness exercises" and add resources to the border. At the same time, U.S. troops will continue to install concertina wire, barriers and barricades, as "requested by CBP under Operation Secure Line." 

Originally named "Operation Faithful Patriot," the deployment of active duty troops was rebranded last week to the more sanguine "Operation Secure Line."

"This included the placement of large barriers, CONEX boxes on limited use northbound vehicular lanes of traffic, and tactical training exercises with personnel," she said. 

CBP said that the materials would not removed and the lanes re-opened until after the caravan arrives at the border, said Minglesdorff. "Persons traveling through some ports of entry may anticipate periodic increased wait times because of these exercises," she said. 

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Mobile Field Force officers from the Office of Field Operations train for potential protests at the Port of Nogales, AZ, Mariposa Crossing on October 30, 2018.