Deal with the farce along the bor­der

Santa Fe New Mexican - - LOCAL & REGION -

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s or­der de­ploy­ing thou­sands of ac­tive-duty troops to the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der, to halt what he char­ac­ter­ized as an im­mi­nent “in­va­sion” by so-called car­a­vans of Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants, had its use as pre-elec­toral po­lit­i­cal the­ater. But it is not a laugh­ing mat­ter.

Tax­pay­ers are al­ready on the hook for a bill likely to ex­ceed $200 mil­lion over the next sev­eral weeks to sup­port at least 7,000 sol­diers whose mis­sion, in­so­far as the Pen­tagon has de­scribed it, is un­likely to in­volve de­tain­ing or de­port­ing any of the Cen­tral Amer­i­cans who make their way to the fron­tier. Rather, the U.S. ser­vice mem­bers are ex­pected to pro­vide sup­port — help­ing spot in­com­ing mi­grants; trans­port­ing Bor­der Pa­trol agents by he­li­copter; string­ing con­certina wire on ex­ist­ing bor­der bar­ri­ers; pro­vid­ing emer­gency med­i­cal care if needed.

That’s a big if. Mil­i­tary plan­ners es­ti­mate that just a fifth of the roughly 7,000 mainly Hon­duran mi­grants head­ing north­ward by foot through Mex­ico are likely to reach the bor­der. And Pen­tagon of­fi­cials have made clear that those who do make it that far are un­likely to pose a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity. Jour­nal­ists trav­el­ing with the mi­grants re­port that more than half of them are women and chil­dren, not the hard­ened crim­i­nals and Mid­dle Eastern­ers — “the worst scum in the world” was the pres­i­dent’s base­less char­ac­ter­i­za­tion — that Trump con­jured to in­flame his Repub­li­can base be­fore the midterm elec­tions.

Pres­i­dents Barack Obama, Ge­orge W. Bush and Bill Clin­ton all sent Na­tional Guard troops to the bor­der but in gen­er­ally much smaller num­bers, and on bet­ter­de­fined grounds; they, too, were crit­i­cized for shows of force whose se­cu­rity value was more sym­bolic than real. Trump’s choice to use ac­tive-duty troops, and in num­bers wildly dis­pro­por­tion­ate to any con­ceiv­able threat, is pos­tur­ing mas­querad­ing as pol­icy.

Mind­ful per­haps of that prob­lem, and the po­ten­tial for mock­ery — troops con­fronted by women and chil­dren — the Pen­tagon on Wed­nes­day re­dubbed the mis­sion, which had been known as Op­er­a­tion Faith­ful Pa­triot, a han­dle brim­ming with phony drama and peril. From now on it will be known sim­ply as “bor­der sup­port.”

Bor­der Pa­trol agents de­tain hun­dreds of thou­sands of mi­grants at the Mex­i­can bor­der an­nu­ally — a frac­tion of the num­ber rou­tinely ap­pre­hended 20 or 30 years ago. While the num­ber of fam­ily units now cross­ing to seek asy­lum in this coun­try has spiked, the over­all cross-bor­der flow re­mains mod­est com­pared with re­cent decades’ num­bers.

It’s worth not­ing that mi­grants who present them­selves at es­tab­lished bor­der cross­ings to re­quest asy­lum in the United States are break­ing no law; they are en­ti­tled to do so un­der statute and in­ter­na­tional treaties. (They are also en­ti­tled to ap­ply for asy­lum if they cross be­tween bor­der posts, il­le­gally, though on Wed­nes­day the ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced it would try to change that — a change in long-stand­ing prac­tice that seems to fly in the face of U.S. law and in­ter­na­tional treaties.) That it serves Trump’s po­lit­i­cal pur­poses does not make those mi­grants an ac­tual dan­ger.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion is en­ti­tled to urge mi­grants not to come, to stress that most are un­likely to be granted asy­lum, and to work with gov­ern­ments in Mex­ico and Cen­tral Amer­ica to those ends. To bran­dish U.S. troops un­der the cur­rent cir­cum­stances is un­likely to work as de­ter­rence. Now that the elec­tions are fin­ished, maybe this point­less de­ploy­ment can be ended.

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