Pentagon Agrees to Send Troops to the Border to Enhance Security Measures
By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security
On Oct. 26, the Pentagon announced it would send a mix of active duty and National Guard personnel to the southern border in order to support U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Border Patrol agents. They would be joining approximately 2,100 National Guard troops already on site. This additional deployment comes as a caravan of several thousand Central American migrants approaches the U.S.-Mexico border, although their arrival is estimated to be several weeks away.
Trump Calls Caravan an ‘Invasion’
According to Military.com, the Pentagon will also be sending “planning assistance and engineering support in the form of temporary barriers, barricades, and fencing.” President Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to the caravan as an “invasion” and has threatened to use military force in order to turn the caravan around. He has also enlisted the help of the Mexican government in stopping the caravan before it reaches the border, but it appears that Mexican citizens, churches, and charities are actually providing members of the caravan with humanitarian assistance. Trump has also threatened to cut off economic aid to Honduras.
Military Has Few Powers At Border
The existing National Guard mission along the southwestern border is called Operation Guardian Support, and serves only to augment the existing capabilities of CBP and border patrol. Under the law of posse comitatus, U.S. military members cannot act as law enforcement officers; specifically, they cannot arrest anyone or fire upon anyone unless they feel they are being physically threatened. The National Guard historically has acted as an extra set of eyes and ears for border patrol agents and provided considerable logistical and intelligence analysis support.
During this particular deployment, which was approved by Secretary of Defense James Mattis, that support will also include fixed and rotary wing aviation platforms to move CBP personnel and medical teams to “triage, treat, and prepare for commercial transport of patients.” This means they are expecting a significant number of caravan members to arrive needing at least some medical care. Troops will also help with command and control facilities, temporary housing for CBP personnel and personal protective equipment. The operation is being directed by U.S. Northern command in Colorado.
Not The First Time Troops Sent To Border
National Guard troops have been previously deployed on border security assistance missions by former Pres. George W. Bush in 2006 and Pres. Barack Obama in 2010. However, Trump has repeatedly threatened the use of the military as a potentially effective deterrent to illegal immigration. Given that military troops cannot make apprehensions or arrests and can only call in Border Patrol agents to do so, their ultimate effectiveness is questionable. All migrants who request asylum still have to be processed through the ports of entry and then housed at least temporarily if they meet the criteria for a credible fear interview. It’s not clear how much the National Guard can assist with this. It is also not clear where the roughly 800 soldiers will be deployed along the border.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told Fox News that the United States has a sovereign right to protect their system through aggressive action by CBP. Perhaps somewhat disturbingly, she added, “We do not have any intention right now to shoot at people.” She did not indicate if there was a potential for that intention to change based on circumstances. Both Nielsen and the Pentagon have made statements indicating that National Guard troops do have the legal right to defend themselves.