Immigration

Trump Escalates Already Deadly U.S. Border Policies, Ordering National Guard to Mexican Border

“We are now bringing the battlefield to the border.”

Photo Credit: Screenshot / Democracy Now!

A new wave of troops could soon be deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border, even as border crossings by undocumented immigrants are at their lowest levels since 1971. The move comes as a caravan of Central American migrants and asylum seekers in Mexico has prompted a series of threats from President Trump. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports the Trump administration is requesting that the U.S. military build walls for at least one military base along the U.S.-Mexico border. We go to Tucson, Arizona, for an update from Todd Miller, a border security journalist and author of “Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security.”

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The Trump administration has announced plans to deploy National Guard troops along the U.S.-Mexico border. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen described the plan to reporters at the White House on Wednesday.

HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY KIRSTJEN NIELSEN: Border security is homeland security, which is national security. It’s not a partisan issue. It’s not something we can separate out. It’s core to being a sovereign nation. The president has reiterated this many times. In fact, he has specifically said that a sovereign nation that cannot—or worse, not—chooses not to—defend its borders will soon cease, in fact, to be a sovereign nation. The threat is real. …

In an effort to prevent such a consequence, the president has directed that the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security work together with our governors to deploy the National Guard to our southwest border to assist the Border Patrol. The president will be signing a proclamation to that effect today.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: On Wednesday night, President Trump issued a memorandum ordering the defense secretary, head of homeland security and the attorney general to submit an action plan in 30 days that outlines how the agencies will increase border security. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports the Trump administration is requesting that the U.S. military build walls for at least one military base along the U.S.-Mexico border. In remarks on Tuesday, Trump suggested he was open to sending the military to the U.S.-Mexico border to do what immigration authorities could not.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We don’t have laws. We have catch and release. You catch, and then you immediately release. And people come back years later for a court case, except they virtually never come back. So what we are preparing, for the military to secure our border between Mexico and the United States. We have a meeting on it in a little while with General Mattis and everybody. And I think that it’s something we have to do.

AMY GOODMAN: The move comes as border crossings by undocumented people are at their lowest levels since 1971.

The National Guard has been used in recent years for surveillance and intelligence on the border, but not direct law enforcement. In 2014, former Texas Governor Rick Perry placed a thousand troops along the border to respond to a spike in crossings by unaccompanied migrant children. Texas state troopers also assist Border Patrol. President Bush sent 6,000 troops to the border in 2006, and President Obama dispatched 1,200 more troops in 2010.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto told reporters he was still waiting for clarification on Trump’s plan.

PRESIDENT ENRIQUE PEÑA NIETO: [translated] It hasn’t happened yet. And should it eventually happen, given the clarification that the Mexican government has sought from the U.S. authorities on these statements, Mexico will outline its position. Hopefully clarification arrives soon. Hopefully we have the clarification that we want, so we can orient our position regarding this decision to militarize the border. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump’s vow to further militarize the U.S.-Mexico border comes as he’s railed against a caravan of more than a thousand Central American migrants on a 2,000-mile journey to the U.S. from the Mexico-Guatemalan border, and threatened to derail the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, if they are not stopped. We’ll talk more about the caravan in our next segment.

But first we go to Tucson, Arizona, where we’re joined by Todd Miller, journalist and author, who has reported on border security for over a decade. His most recent book, Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security. He’s also the author of Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security. And he’s one of four investigative reporters who just received the 2018 Izzy Award.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Todd. Why don’t you start off by talking about the significance of President Trump’s many tweets, a tweetstorm over the weekend, after meeting with a number of Fox anchors and administrators, and then the announcement yesterday by Department of Homeland Security that those troops could arrive as early as last night on the border?

TODD MILLER: Sure. Good morning. Yeah, the president really does have this remarkable ability to make things more grandiose, in a way, than they really are. What I mean by that is that through his tweets and through his declarations of the last few days, the president makes it seem like we’re sending—the U.S. military will be sent to the U.S.-Mexico border to clash with the very caravan that he’s been talking about—basically, hundreds of people who are facing persecution and conditions of poverty in their home countries in Central America.

But what really is going to happen is the National Guard will probably be sent to the border. We’re not—it’s not clear how many troops will be sent there yet. And they will play a role, as they have in the past, which is a support role with the U.S. Border Patrol and border apparatus. Basically, they can’t make arrests, and they can’t do like patrolling and make arrests on the ground.

And so, what it does is, actually, it frees up the—what is more emblematic of the current militarization of the U.S. border, which is the actual Border Patrol itself. And the Border Patrol is—it does patrol the border, not only just the boundary line, but in 100-mile jurisdictions, with extraconstitutional powers, meaning that the Border Patrol can do things above and beyond what normal law enforcement can do. They can put up checkpoints. They do roving patrols. They can pull over people for, you know, reasons of—not even national security reasons. And so, what the National Guard presence will do, because they are restrained by the 19th century law, the Posse Comitatus Act, which restrains the military from doing policing in the country, it frees up what is basically an agency that’s self-defined as a paramilitary agency.

And if you look back into the past, when the Bush administration, for example, put 6,000 National Guard troops on the border, what he was doing was basically putting a placeholder down as the Border Patrol was hiring, was doing a massive hiring surge, literally doubling the ranks of Border Patrol, hiring 6,000 more agents. So, I imagine that’s the idea behind the Trump administration’s putting the National Guard on the border, as a placeholder so he can push forth with these plans of an expanded border wall system with more agents and technologies.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s go back to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaking Wednesday about President Trump’s plan to deploy the National Guard along the border.

HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY KIRSTJEN NIELSEN: In the meantime, the president has directed the National Guard personnel be deployed to the southern border. The Department of Defense, as you know, has long supported the efforts of DHS to protect our nation’s borders. This includes ongoing counternarcotic missions, infrastructure construction, persistent surveillance operations training, and aerial support throughout the Western Hemisphere. The Department of Defense is a longtime partner of the Department of Homeland Security, and I thank them for their support. While plans are being finalized, it’s our expectation that the National Guard will deploy personnel in support of CBP’s border security mission. It will take time to have the details in place, but we are beginning today, and we are moving quickly. We are anxious to have this support.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Todd Miller, could you respond to what the homeland security Secretary said, and also elaborate on what you’ve said in the past, namely that there’s been a steady expansion of the militarized U.S. border apparatus in the last 25 years? So, what is Trump proposing that will further militarize the border? And what, in fact, has has happened in the last 25 years?

TODD MILLER: Yeah, that’s an important, really important, point. Over the last 25 years has been the most massive expansion of the U.S. enforcement—border enforcement apparatus that we have ever seen in U.S. history. So, when Trump—even before Trump set foot in the White House in January of 2017, he had at his disposal this gigantic apparatus. And to give you an example of what—the kind of expansion and the bolstering that we’ve seen over the years, in the early 1990s, there were about 4,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents, now there are about 21,000. So it’s a fivefold increase.

Customs and Border Protection, which is the parent agency of the U.S. Border Patrol, is the top law enforcement—federal law enforcement agency in the country. They have about 60,000 to 65,000 agents. And it not only includes the Border Patrol, but there’s an Office of Air and Marine, which is basically a domestic navy and air force. And they have special forces units.

The budgets for border and immigration enforcement in the early 1990s, the annual budgets, were about $1.5 billion with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Now, or in 2017, if you take the budgets of Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement and combine them, it is $20 billion. That’s a 13-fold increase. That $20 billion is more than all other law enforcement agencies combined. And that’s the FBI, the DEA, the U.S. Marshals—all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. Their budgets in 2017 came to about $15.5 billion. So, U.S. border and immigration enforcement has become a priority of the U.S. federal government.

The plans, the Trump plans, would be to—what I can see, and looking at the National Guard troops as a sort of placeholder, they’ll come in and do kind of surveillance work and all the different things that was mentioned in that clip. And as a placeholder, I believe—and it remains to be seen—but central to the Trump presidency, his candidacy before that, is this idea of a border wall. And I would go further to say a border wall system, because that’s what Customs and Border Patrol—Customs and Border Protection is saying, a border wall system in the fact that all this—all this massive increase that I just discussed will be added on to more. So there will be more agents. There will be more walls. There will be more technologies. There will be more checkpoints. There will be more drone surveillance. There will be more expansion of this apparatus into these 100-mile jurisdictions. And I think that’s the intention.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to a clip from the Fox News weekend segment that reportedly sparked President Trump’s flurry of tweets about the need to take action on the U.S.-Mexico border.

PETE HEGSETH: An army of migrants is literally marching or riding or making their way from—is it Honduras?

ABBY HUNTSMAN: From—most all of them from Central America. The big question is: What happens when they do arrive in the U.S.?

GRIFF JENKINS: Well—

ABBY HUNTSMAN: I know they want to seek protection, but they won’t—

PETE HEGSETH: Some are seeking asylum.

ABBY HUNTSMAN: They won’t necessarily get that.

GRIFF JENKINS: Well, no, they’re going to be arrested. I mean, you can’t illegally come to the United States.

ABBY HUNTSMAN: Will they, though? I don’t know.

PETE HEGSETH: What do you think? If there’s a small migrant army marching toward the United States, peacefully, but wants to cross our borders, how should it be handled?

AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re going to talk about this delegation, this what he calls caravan that’s making its way through Mexico, in our next segment. On Wednesday, Trump tweeted, quote, “Our Border Laws are very weak while those of Mexico & Canada are very strong. Congress must change these Obama era, and other, laws NOW! The Democrats stand in our way–they want people to pour into our country unchecked....CRIME! We will be taking strong action today.” And on Tuesday, Trump said the military would be used to guard the U.S.-Mexico border.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have no border, because we had Obama make changes. President Obama made changes that basically created no border. It’s called catch and release. You catch them, you register them. They go into our country. We can’t throw them out. … We have very bad laws for our border. And we are going to be doing some things. I’ve been speaking with General Mattis. We’re going to be doing things militarily, until we can have a wall and proper security. We’re going to be guarding our border with the military. That’s a big step. We really haven’t done that before, or certainly not very much before.

AMY GOODMAN: So, there you have President Trump and what he has been focused on, talking about Mexico breaking up that caravan. We’re going to talk about it in our next segment, but that’s clearly what he’s been talking about all weekend, Todd Miller. Can you talk about the effect of Fox, also his senior adviser, as his advisers drop by the wayside every single week, it seems, advisers leaving him from the White House? Who’s left is Stephen Miller, who is well known as a fierce anti-immigrant hawk.

TODD MILLER: Yeah, just listen to that clip and the language that’s being used, like the language, there’s an “army,” quote-unquote, “army” of migrants coming north, and just the kind—that language of there’s this threat coming from afar, and they’re coming to get us. And it seems like Trump, you know, and the Trump administration and his—obviously, his advisers, like Stephen Miller, they use that sort of rhetoric to then promote this further buildup of the apparatus.

And in reality—I know you’re going to be talking about the caravan in the next segment—but are the right questions being asked? When you talk about the caravan—and it was interesting. He said, “An army of migrants is coming north.” And then he said, “Peacefully.” And it’s like, “What? What do you mean? Is it peacefully or an army?” But the real—like the fundamental questions of, like, this idea that massive socioeconomic, political problems, like the problems that are facing the people coming from Central America, problems that come from deep, historic roots of U.S. policy in Central America, you know, that those people—that the idea of their migration and their pain and suffering is going to be, you know, solved by a border wall.

In my view—I forgot to mention this huge point: There is a border wall. It’s interesting. Like, Trump, in his clip, he’s saying, “Well, there’s nothing.” He’s always saying that there’s almost nothing there. And there clearly is a U.S. border wall. There’s almost 700 miles of it. It’s walls and barriers, and strategically placed. And he said weak laws. Well, the kind of strategy that the border has been under for the last 20 years has been prevention through deterrence. So you put down these walls and reinforce it with Border Patrol agents and technologies, and people circumvent these areas and go into the desert and places that are deadly. And the remains of more than 7,000 people have been found in the U.S. borderlands since these, quote-unquote, “weak laws” were put into place. So these weak laws are deadly laws, right?

And so, what is the right question to be asking? Right? Is the right question to further the border militarization that we’ve seen up to this point, and not really look at these bigger issues? Socioeconomic, political, economic issues are a huge one, considering like the economic models in Central America. Political issues are huge ones. Yet, what—all we’re talking about is this idea of putting up this border wall, border wall, military on the border.

AMY GOODMAN: And, very quickly, on the issue of Obama, who he constantly attacks, wasn’t it President Obama, of course, who was even called by his pro-immigrant allies, immigrant group leaders—he was called the “deporter-in-chief.” And it was in 2014, wasn’t it, that President Obama called out the National Guard to respond to the influx of child migrants in 2014?

TODD MILLER: Yes, President Obama has been very involved in the buildup of the U.S. border-deportation apparatus. And yeah, Obama sent—

AMY GOODMAN: In 2010.

TODD MILLER: —National Guard troops. In 2010. Again, the National Guard troops, under Obama, was to—they served as a placeholder as the apparatus was ratcheting up further. So, they were bolstering it with more technologies, more agents. And so, Obama played a huge part in that, as well as, you know, the increased detentions of people facing deportations, the 400—approximately 400,000 people per year who have been—who were expelled from the country during the Obama administration. So, the kind of accusations, in that sense, from the Trump administration to the Obama administration, is ignoring those very—you know, those facts, what Obama was doing and kind of how Obama took the post-9/11 immigration-border enforcement apparatus from the Bush administration and bolstered it even more.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Todd Miller, we have very little time now, but I wanted to get your take on—having spoken to representatives of companies selling border control and policing equipment, what did you find out about the sales that have been going on?

TODD MILLER: Yeah, I’ve been doing research on the companies that have been selling to Border Patrol for quite a long time now. And, you know, when I was—when I first—it was the early 2010s when I first really started delving into this. And many of the representatives—I would go to like border security expos and conventions and places where private companies would come together and try to sell their products to, you know, the Customs and Border Protection. And, you know, companies big and small, like from Raytheon and Lockheed Martin and Boeing, Elbit Systems, to smaller—to smaller companies. And a lot of people had the same sort of take. And the take was, you know, “The wars are starting to wind down, and military operations are starting to wind down in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.” That’s what they were saying at the time. “And we are now looking for new markets. And one of the big markets that’s coming, emerging, is the border security market.” And so, I’ve been following that. That’s been a big part of my reporting, looking at this market.

If you look at forecasts and projections, one recent projection said it’s in a boom—it’s in a boom period, unprecedented boom period. They have the homeland security market, global homeland security market, going from $300 billion to approximately $600 billion, doubling over a 10-year period, from the 2010s to the 2020s. So this kind of border-homeland security apparatus, via the—through the perspective of the private sector, is a booming industry in growth. And there’s a lot of investment. And it’s often coming from companies that were—that have contracts or had contracts with the military. And one vendor that I talked to told me, “We are now bringing the battlefield to the border,” quote-unquote, and showing how the private sector’s involvement is also in the—you know, looking at the dynamic of militarization of the border, how the private sector is also implicated.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you, Todd Miller, for being with us, reporting on border security for over a decade. His most recent book, Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security, also the author of Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll talk about that caravan that President Trump has been lamenting throughout the weekend, who’s talking about it as the cause of sending down troops to the border. Stay with us.

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Nermeen Shaikh is a producer with Democracy Now!. She is the author of "The Present as History: Critical Perspectives on Global Power" (Columbia University Press).