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His border wall temper tantrums not having produced the desired effect, President Trump is now moving to address what he claims, without any available evidence aside from the fever dreams of Ann Coulter, is a clear and present danger to the United States: he wants to militarize the southern border. Of course, he can’t actually do that with the military; that would violate the Posse Comitatus Act. But he can ask governors to mobilize the National Guard, as Presidents Obama and Bush had done before him, mobilizing twelve hundred and six thousand troops, respectively, to act in support roles. And that’s what he did yesterday.
WHAT IT MEANS:
- The NYT has a hell of a lede: “A little over a year ago, when news surfaced of a Trump administration memo that proposed mobilizing as many as 100,000 National Guard troops to round up unauthorized immigrants at the southern border, a White House spokesman quickly denounced the reports as ‘irresponsible.’ … At the Pentagon, where officials had greeted the news grimly, there were sighs of relief: Military leaders have long opposed sending National Guard troops to the border. … But the idea that [Sean] Spicer called inconceivable a year ago is back in play. On Wednesday, White House officials said that President Trump planned to mobilize the National Guard to the southern border. The announcement came a day after Mr. Trump surprised some of his top advisers by saying that he wanted to send in the military to do what the immigration authorities, in his view, could not: secure the border from what he characterized as a growing threat of unauthorized immigrants, drugs and crime from Central America.”
- “Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, said on Wednesday that her department and the Defense Department would work with governors to deploy the Guard to ‘assist the Border Patrol.’ But beyond that, officials had few details about how many troops would go, when they would arrive or in what capacity they would serve. Ms. Nielsen said she hoped the deployment would begin ‘immediately,’ but administration officials said the formal agreements with governors that would allow the troops to mobilize were still being negotiated. At the Pentagon, several officials privately expressed concern about being seen as picking a fight with an ally at a time when the military has plenty of adversaries—the Islamic State, North Korea, Russia, Syria—to contend with. Massing American troops at another country’s border, several current and former Defense Department officials said, would send a message of hostility and raise the chances of provoking an all-out conflict.”
- “Defense Department officials say that [Secretary James] Mattis backs the proposal if it mirrors deployments made under Mr. Trump’s predecessors, when troops were sent in a support, but not enforcement, role. … But military officials worry that Mr. Trump may not be satisfied with the Bush- and Obama-level deployments. Even limited deployments, Pentagon officials said, have come with their share of trouble. … Even if Mr. Mattis tried to steer Mr. Trump toward the limited border deployment used by his predecessors, the president ‘would want it to be visible,’ said Dov S. Zakheim, the Pentagon’s top financial officer during Mr. Bush’s first term. ‘He would want to have troops literally patrolling the border. It wouldn’t be enough to have drones.’ But if Mexico responded by putting troops on its side of the border, Mr. Zakheim said, the situation could deteriorate quickly. ‘All it takes is one mistake,’ he said. ‘Somebody fires. And then what?’”
- So what exactly is the threat the apparently overwhelmed Border Patrol needs military help dealing with? From the NYT: “Despite the historically low number of apprehensions at the border last year, data released on Wednesday by Customs and Border Protection showed a steady uptick since the beginning of the year. Last month, 37,393 individuals were caught by the Border Patrol, up from 26,662 the month before and 25,978 in January.”
- Or, as CNN notes, perhaps it’s just that the president was watching television: “They might deny it, but evidence suggests that a hurriedly announced deployment of National Guard troops to the southern border was sparked by a presidential tweet storm, itself apparently provoked by a Fox News story. Just three days after Trump tweeted Sunday about reports showing a ‘caravan’ of Central American migrants trekking across Mexico, his administration is launching a mobilization of troops of undetermined length, rules of engagement and cost.”
- About that caravan: “The caravan of Central American migrants going through Mexico to the US border isn't ending. Instead, its participants will disperse into smaller groups after reaching Mexico City. While some will stay in Mexico to try to get refugee status there, others will continue north to the US border. … Regardless of what Trump says or does, many migrants in the caravan said they won't be deterred from heading to the US border. Lilian Mejia is one of them and determined to get to Texas. She left El Salvador to join the caravan and said she heard on the news that Trump is mad because of them. ‘He's not poor, fighting for his family,’ Mejia, 25, said. ‘This is what he doesn't understand.’”
- Writing in The Washington Post, Max Boot calls Trump’s fear-mongering over this “caravan” “hysterical, cowardly, inhumane and deranged in equal parts”: “So what is this terrifying ‘caravan’ that necessitates—gasp—tweeting in CAPITAL LETTERS? It turns out to consist of roughly 1,000 migrants, including 300 children and 400 women. They are primarily from Honduras, a tiny country that is afflicted by poverty, corruption, political violence and one of the world’s highest homicide rates. The reason the migrants are traveling together, a New York Times correspondent notes, is ‘in part for protection against the kidnappers, muggers and rapists that stalk the migrant trail, but also to draw more attention to their plight.’ … The U.S. Border Patrol has nearly 20,000 agents. Together, they apprehended more than 310,000 people trying to enter the United States last year. It seems safe to say that the Border Patrol will be able to defend American soil from some 1,000 bedraggled refugees even without the help of the armed forces or the erection of a border wall—steps that Trump claims are of urgent necessity.”
- FWIW, this mobilization probably won’t affect North Carolina’s National Guard. Trump is asking the governors of California, Texas, Arizona, and California to deploy units; my money is on California and New Mexico declining.
For my money, Boot gets at the heart of this charade pretty effectively:
- “And what horrors will be visited upon the United States if it were to act with a smidgen of kindness and allow a few of the Hondurans in? We would undoubtedly be getting hard-working newcomers who, like most immigrants, will make our country even greater than it is. Contrary to Trump’s fearmongering, we are not drowning in a sea of illegal immigrants; we are experiencing a net outflow of illegal immigrants from the United States back to Mexico. Trump’s threats—to tear up NAFTA and end aid to Honduras—would actually worsen the problem of illegal immigration by destabilizing Mexico and Honduras. The president’s message—that just 1,000 refugees pose an existential threat to the world’s sole superpower—is yet another example of the xenophobia he uses to galvanize his white, working-class base. He is showing once again that he lacks both the humanity and perspective that we expect in a president.”