National Guard troops have begun arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, following President Donald Trump order last week to deploy 4,000 troops to discourage border crossings.
Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas — all led by Republican governors — have offered troops members to the cause so far. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey just deployed the first group of 225 members out of 338 members; New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez will commit 250 members; and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott pledged at least 1,000 troops. California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is still reviewing whether his state will send troops.
Previous presidents have similarly sent National Guard troops to the border before, so Trump’s decision isn’t unprecedented. Still, it is strange given the reality near the border today.
Caravans of people aren’t crossing the border
The president has conjured up scary visions of caravans of people swarming the border, but the reality is far less frightening than that.
The caravan that caught the president’s attention last week was filled with Central Americans who have dreams of reaching the United States to directly plead for some form of humanitarian relief with border agents. In order to do that, these people cannot evade arrest, but must directly encounter and surrender with CBP agents. And the caravan disbanded in Mexico last week, throwing the immediate utility of National Guard troops at the border into question.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency said there was a 37 percent increase in attempted crossings between February and March. But on-the-ground data from 2017 shows that border crossings were at an all-time low last year.
The border is safe because of people who live there
Border residents — who would be the first to encounter swarms of border crossers — would also likely argue that the president’s fearmongering tactics has little basis in what they’re seeing in their towns.
“Our communities are safe communities — we have some of the lowest crime rates in the country,” John-Michael Torres, a communications coordinator at the Rio Grande Valley-based immigrant advocacy group La Unión Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), told ThinkProgress in a phone interview Monday. “That’s because we work closely with Mexico and have tight partnerships… Our communities are just like any other communities in the United States.”
The border is safe because of border security measures already in place. Over the past few years and under the previous Obama administration, budgetary commitments from both Republican and Democrat lawmakers have expanded and improved border security infrastructure and technology and greatly increased the number of border agents.
Mexico’s economy has improved significantly since 2012
Last year, Mexico’s gross domestic product was $2.4 trillion, with a growth rate of 2.1 percent. The country is now a big manufacturing center for electronics, The Balance reported, and has made itself attractive to foreign factories through duty-free measures in its trade agreements.
Sending troops to the southern border is costly
It’s unknown how much it would cost taxpayers to send up to 4,000 troops to the southern border for an unknown amount of time, but based on historical figures, it will be pricey. When former President George Bush sent National Guard troops to southern border states during Operation Jump Start between 2006 and 2008, Newsweek reported it cost about $100,000 per troop per year.
“It is unclear what deploying the military for an indefinite period of time will accomplish that our civil authorities have not already done, beyond sending a discriminatory message to people fleeing violence and conflict, and diverting funds away from rebuilding military readiness,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) said in a press statement Tuesday which also criticized the president’s decision to deploy troops as “ill-conceived” and “unnecessary.”
Drug interdiction is already a collaborative effort between the United States and Mexico
The CBP agency has border liaison officers who closely collaborate with Mexican law enforcement officials to gather intelligence and build cases against drug traffickers. With or without National Guard troops present, the federal agency is already working hard to prevent any flow of unauthorized drugs and other materials from coming into the interior of the United States.