Donald Trump’s administration was on the losing end of a request for troops being sent to the border to perform law enforcement activities, a violation of the U.S. Posse Comitatus Law, CNN reported.
With a migrant caravan still hundreds of miles away from the U.S. border, the Trump administration is moving forward with its decision to send thousands of troops to the border ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections. The “political stunt,” as former President Barack Obama called the mobilization, will cost taxpayers tens—and possibly hundreds—of millions of dollars.
According to CNN, citing two defense officials, the Department of Homeland Security wanted the Pentagon to send a “reserve force that could be called upon to provide ‘crowd and traffic control’ and safeguard Customs and Border Protection personnel.” On Oct. 26, the Pentagon said no. It did allow air and logistics support, medical personnel, and engineers, CNN said.
DHS officials disputed the judgment by the Pentagon that the actions would constitute law enforcement activities. But what function the soldiers will perform at the border still isn’t entirely understood by the public that’s paying for it.
Currently, about 7,000 active-duty troops will be deployed in the border states of California, Texas, and Arizona, along with 2,000 National Guard troops already there, according to The Washington Post. Some active-duty troops have already arrived. But Trump has said he wants that number to increase to 15,000, which is more U.S. soldiers than are deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria.
Travis Sharp, of the Center for Strategic and Budget Assessments, told the Post that the cost of sending 15,000 troops to the border through mid-December could reach $110 million. That’s in addition to the $103 million taxpayers have spent since April to send the National Guard. Sending 8,000 troops would cost up to $50 million through mid-December, Sharp said. That cost obviously would increase if the deployments are extended past December.
As Washington Post correspondent Philip Bump pointed out, 15,000 troops standing shoulder-to-shoulder would cover about two miles of the border. And no one knows yet how many of the Central American migrants will actually make it to legally request asylum on U.S. soil.
A military intelligence assessment prepared for Pentagon officials and published this week by Newsweek noted that only about 20% of the original 7,000 migrants in the caravan are expected to reach the border. That would be about five soldiers for each member of the caravan, the Post’s Nick Miroff and Missy Ryan calculated.
Trump also was wrong on rules of engagement. On Friday, he was forced to walk back statements he made the previous day suggesting that troops might shoot migrants if they throw rocks. “Anybody throwing stones, rocks…we will consider that a firearm,” Trump had said.
The next day, Trump clarified that any potential rock-throwers would be arrested, not shot. “They do that with us, they’re going to be arrested. There’s going to be problems. I didn’t say shoot. I didn’t say shoot,” Trump said.
Trump also promised earlier this week to build more concentration camps for border-crossers. That doesn’t seem to be happening, either. According to CNN, “while there had been informal talks between the Department of Defense and DHS about having the military build tent facilities to house detained migrants, tents were never part of the formal request for assistance submitted by DHS and approved by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.”
In other words, this outrageously expensive and ridiculous stunt by the Trump administration to use the U.S. military as political pawns stands more than a decent chance of becoming a nightmare overnight—just like everything else Trump touches.