The only crisis here is one of leadership. Our border with Mexico is safer than it has been in years. Deploying the National Guard there will be costly and unnecessary. Sadly, its deployment reflects a politically motivated calculation more than it does reality or national security.
Lately, Trump has been describing our southern border as under siege from the threat of undocumented immigrants. The data say otherwise. Illegal entries at our southern border are actually at the lowest level since 1971.
A study from the Department of Homeland Security last fall found that crossing the border illegally is tougher than ever, and that U.S. authorities are catching most of those who attempt to do so. Trump himself has bragged about how his administration’s policies have reduced the number of illegal crossings on our southern border.
So why the sudden need for the National Guard at the border? The answer lies with Fox News. The network's morning show recently reported on a caravan of Central Americans bound for the border, describing them as “a small migrant army marching toward the United States.”
These so-called caravans have been taking place for at least 15 years. They are organized to draw attention to the plight of asylum seekers and the violence in Central America. Some of the folks in the caravan planned to present themselves to Border Patrol agents in hopes of making a claim for asylum, which they have a right to do under international law.
But this year, hearing about the caravans seems to have triggered Trump into ordering the Guard be sent to the border — as if the caravan members were planning to bum-rush agents and sneak into the country en masse. The caravan was supposed to end in Mexico City anyway, and Trump announced Thursday it had disbanded inside Mexico.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was asked Wednesday whether Trump's decision was influenced by what he was watching on TV. “I think what’s true is that the president is frustrated. He’s been very clear he wants to secure the border,” she said. “I think what you’re seeing is the president taking his job very seriously.”
It is extremely telling that Nielsen could not simply answer, "No." So now members of the National Guard will have their lives upended because Trump has been watching too much cable news. Plus, there is a lot we still don’t know about the deployment of the Guard, like who will pay for it, how many guardsmen will be deployed, and how long they will be deployed.
True, both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama also ordered the National Guard to the border. But illegal immigration was much higher back then. According to Vox, in the month before Bush deployed the Guard to the border in 2006, about 126,000 unauthorized migrants were apprehended. For Obama in 2010, the number was 55,000. With Trump, the number of migrants apprehended last month was 37,000.
And consider that the National Guard is not allowed to make arrests or detain immigrants without congressional authorization (which they don’t have).
What is really going on here is that Trump is again trying to rally his base by playing to fears about illegal immigration. The calling up of the Guard could be seen as a way to distract attention from the fact that, despite Republicans controlling Congress, the president has still not fulfilled his promise of building a wall on the border. Nielsen said the Guard could be deployed to the border as soon as Wednesday night — which is astonishing when we recall that the government was slow to activate large numbers of the Guard in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
As it turned out, the deployment was still in the planning stages Thursday as Trump announced the caravan had broken up. His solution to this non-existent crisis on the border is as cynical as it is wasteful. Immigration policy should be driven by data and solid goals, not politics and raging emotion.