By Sophie Smith
On April 4, Donald Trump released a memorandum demanding National Guard troops deploy to the US-Mexico border, where soldiers will help existing border control forces ebb illegal immigration into the country. Defense Secretary James Mattis, citing the need to control the influx of drugs and gang violence coming from Mexico, authorized between 2,000 and 4,000 National Guard soldiers to go to the border. Governors from Texas, New Mexico and Arizona are cooperating, having already agreed to send hundreds of troops South, with more expected to follow in the coming months.
The new policy is hasty, drastic and costly – and for what? According to a CNN correspondent, immigrant crossing from the southern border is at a fifty-year low. Besides, most people trying to immigrate to America are coming to provide opportunities for themselves and their families, not to wreak havoc on the country.
Even if there were a legitimate border crisis, there is not much the National Guard could do to help. An 1878 law called the Posse Comitatus Act states that US Armed Forces cannot enforce domestic law without legislative approval, and other acts prohibit the National Guard from arresting and conducting searches on individuals. Instead of detaining border-crossers and fighting crime like Trump imagined, National Guard troops will only be of use at the border doing relatively menial tasks. Most of its contributions will likely involve the repair of roads and infrastructure along the border and keeping an eye on surveillance videos. Because the White House has not been explicit about its expectations from the National Guard, the troops’ actual duties remain vague.
The operation is yet another empty grab from Trump’s administration to illustrate its hardline anti-immigration stance. Like the infamous border wall, deploying troops is a poorly planned and ineffective solution to what the government perceives as a national crisis.
All this is without even mentioning the harm these deployments will do. The operation will be expensive – George W. Bush and Barack Obama spent $1.2 billion and $110 million, respectively on similar strategies. No projected budget for the 2018 deployments has been announced.
Then there is the human toll. While the deployments will be largely ineffective, it is just another testament to the growing xenophobia sweeping this country. Painting all immigrants as inherent risks to the safety of Americans is a negligence of freedom, compassion and human dignity.
Fortunately, not all US leaders are as dangerously xenophobic as those at the top. California Governor Jerry Brown has agreed to send 400 troops to the border, but stipulated that the California National Guard “will not be enforcing federal immigration laws.” Governor Brown also said, “It will not be a mission to round up women and children or detain people escaping violence and seeking a better life.” However, Governor Brown’s announcement elicited praise from the president, who tweeted that “Brown is doing the right thing” – so maybe the governor is not being as progressive as he made it sound.
Nancy Pelosi and Oregon Governor Kate Brown are firmer in their anti-Trump stances. Governor Brown has refused to deploy the Oregon National Guard to the border, saying she is “deeply troubled” at the new nationalistic actions. Pelosi, the House Democratic Leader, said in a statement, “President Trump continues to use every cynical political trick in the book to ignite anti-immigrant fervor.” The president’s policies are not to make America safer – they are to gain support from his voter base and to instill fear and nationalism in the American people.
I know the past weeks have bogged us down with a whole host of troubling developments – namely, the horrifying US, UK and French-led airstrikes in Syria last week – and it’s hard not to feel empathetically fatigued from it all. Yet the government’s persistent stance against immigration affects millions of people and deserves the full attention of all Americans. If we allow ourselves to become overwhelmed and apathetic, the country’s leaders will only grow firmer in their hateful convictions.