Trump Threatens 15,000 Troops Amid Unprecedented Militarization of U.S.-Mexico Border

Just days before the midterms, President Trump is threatening to send up to 15,000 troops to the US-Mexico border in response to a caravan of Central American migrants

Trump Threatens 15,000 Troops Amid Unprecedented Militarization of U.S.-Mexico Border

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Story Transcript

AARON MATE: It’s The Real News, I’m Aaron Mate.

Just days before the midterms, President Trump is threatening to send up to 15,000 U.S. troops to the border with Mexico in response to a migrant caravan of Central American asylum seekers.

DONALD TRUMP: As far as the caravan is concerned, our military is out. We have about 5,800. We’ll go up to anywhere between 10 and 15,000 military personnel on top of Border Patrol, ICE and everybody else at the border. Nobody’s coming in. We’re not allowing people to come in. They’re trying to get up any way they can. They’re trying to get up by train, they’re trying to get up by truck and by buses. We’re going to be prepared. They’re not coming into our country. And one other thing, important. We’re not doing any releases anymore. We’re not going to release and let them never come back to trial. We’ll build tent cities, we’ll build whatever we have to build in terms of housing.

AARON MATE: Thousands of troops have already been called up under so-called Operation Faithful Patriot. According to Stars and Stripes, the Pentagon is deploying 39 military units who are “armed and authorized to use force to defend themselves.” Along with his threats to potential asylum seekers, Trump has floated conspiracy theories about them, including that the caravan includes MS-13 gang members and “Middle Easterners.” On Wednesday, Trump said he thinks that billionaire liberal financier, George Soros, might be funding the caravan.

SPEAKER: Do you think somebody’s funding the caravan? George Soros?

DONALD TRUMP: I wouldn’t be surprised. I wouldn’t be surprised. I don’t know who, but I wouldn’t be surprised. A lot of people say yes.

AARON MATE: Joining me is Todd Miller. He is a journalist covering border and immigration issues, author of Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration and Homeland Security. Welcome, Todd.

You’ve been covering how the border has been militarized for years now. Talk about what Trump is doing here, what we know about this operation that he has ordered.

TODD MILLER: Yeah, so currently I believe there’s been about 5,000 to 6,000 soldiers that have been authorized to go to the U.S.-Mexico border on active duty. So, if you remember correctly, in April there was a deployment of National Guards, so there’s about 2,000 National Guard that are already on the U.S.-Mexico border. But this deployment of military, it really … first of all, the military is actually limited in what it can do due to Posse Comitatus, which basically doesn’t allow the military to do patrolling on U.S. soil. And so what it will do is what the National Guard has been doing, which is basically reinforce Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection in general.

So the military will probably be in surveillance, monitoring centers. They might be flying, doing overflights, doing surveillance. They might be clearing brush away from the border wall, stuff that the National Guard has been doing. What the purpose is to “free up” the Border Patrol so the Border Patrol can patrol more. You can see, with the Trump announcement of the soldiers, that part of it is not really unpacked. Basically, there’s a lot of hyperbole, there’s pretty much ramped-up rhetoric. The soldiers aren’t going to go and confront the people coming in the caravan who are right now in southern Mexico, more than a thousand miles away from the U.S. southern border. And so there’s that part of it and then there’s a historical part of it.

AARON MATE: All right. Before we get to the historical part, first of all, it’s even been acknowledged in internal Pentagon studies that they’re not even convinced that the majority of the caravan members will even make it to the border, putting aside the question of whether or not we should be threatening people who are seeking asylum. But it’s even acknowledged that these people are already so far away that only a small amount will even likely make it to the U.S.-Mexico border. But talk about the caravan itself, what we know about who’s in it. This is not the first caravan. These things are often organized to call attention to the very conditions that these people are now fleeing. But this one, from what I’ve read, appears actually to be much less organized and more organic, more a result of people directly fleeing increasingly dire conditions.

TODD MILLER: Yeah, this one at its peak it was 7,000 people coming from Honduras. There’s organizers, but there’s still a lot of people that heard about it through different means, social media included, and joined in. And it’s primarily Hondurans and other caravans being composed of people from Guatemala or El Salvador or a mixture therein. As you said, the caravans have a history, there has been caravans before, such as the one in April. There was one that was highly publicized in April. Again, due to the Trump administration, if I remember correctly, Donald Trump actually began Tweeting about the caravan on Easter Sunday going to church with similar rhetoric that we see right now – “We’re going to stop this caravan and we’re going to stop them when they come to the border.”

And when that caravan arrived to the border, it was about 1,500 people, it was about maybe 300 people that actually arrived. So if you look at those proportions, perhaps there will be probably less than a thousand people once it does arrive to that to the U.S. border. And most of people that arrive will be asylum seekers. So what they’re going to do is present themselves at the ports of entry to claim asylum. And so that’s probably most likely the scenario that will happen with this one.

AARON MATE: I want to go to a clip. This is a top U.S. general, the head of the U.S. Northern Command, speaking this week at a news conference about the military plans for the border.

TERRENCE O’SHAUGHNESSY: By the end of this week, we will deploy over 5,200 soldiers to the southwest border. That is just the start of this operation. We’ll continue to adjust the numbers and inform you of those, but please know that’s in addition to the 2,092 that are already employed from our National Guard, Operation Guardian Support, that’s been so effective.

REPORTER: Why not use the National Guard forces, and will the forces, the active duty forces on their way, will those soldiers be armed?

TERRENCE JOHN O’SHAUGHNESSY: We have the authority given to us by Secretary Mattis, the units that are normally assigned weapons, they are in fact deploying with weapons.

AARON MATE: So that is General Terrence John O’Shaughnessy. He is the head of the U.S. Northern Command. So Todd, how does this deployment fit into the history of border militarization that you mentioned before, a topic you’ve been covering for a while now?

TODD MILLER: Yeah, the military itself has been on the border since the early 1980s really, mainly doing joint task force operations with the U.S. Border Patrol. Again, they’re mainly in a support role due to the law. They’re not allowed to be actively patrolling. So when he says they’re going to be armed, I think he means that they’ll be able to respond in self-defense. However, in many of the kind of joint task force operations that they’ve engaged in, they have actually done patrolling in many occasions, including in the late 1990s, the Marines killed a young sheep herder in Texas who they claimed was a drug smuggler. And it was just a young boy only named Esequiel Hernandez who was tending to his sheep. And so that that caused a lot of press and a lot of attention and scrutiny upon the military.

One thing really, really, really important to stress is that the Border Patrol itself, the way that it’s trained, the way that it’s armed, the weapons that it uses, what it can do and what even they call themselves, they call themselves a paramilitary unit, meaning like a kind of a militarized police unit, it’s important to say that the Border Patrol is like the military itself. So when the military comes in and does support to the Border Patrol, that is reinforcing what has already been called by people a domestic army on U.S. soil. It’s supporting this domestic army on U.S. soil. So when you live in the borderlands, like where I live in Tucson, you’re surrounded by an area where the Border Patrol and can roam, they do patrols, they have what the ACLU calls “extraconstitutional powers,” where they can pull people over and search and seize people, question people, interrogate people, put up checkpoints, all kind of like mangling the Fourth Amendment.

And so it’s in this zone that this military comes and reinforces. And the Border Patrol has massively increased over these years, massively. If you go back to the early 1990s, it was 4,000. Now it’s about 21,000 agents. So it’s a fivefold increase over 25 years of a much longer history. It’s the most historic increase of armed enforcement agents that we’ve had ever. And so the military just kind of joins in this apparatus and the Border Patrol and all kinds of advanced technologies at their disposal, and plus, their collaboration with the local police units, you have this nexus, this apparatus that is quite formidable.

AARON MATE: So what then is the historical significance of this moment? On top of the massive militarization that’s already been proceeding steadily over the years, now you have all of a sudden, this influx of thousands, Trump saying possibly up to 15,000 troops. Where do you place this moment in the history of border militarization?

TODD MILLER: It’s significant. If he sends 15,000, that would be the largest deployment of military on the border ever. Even bringing 5,200 is very significant. The moment, though, the moment at hand. I mean, a week before the midterm elections, the kind of stressing of the border and immigration that the Trump administration has been emphasizing in this election cycle, there’s a political angle that seems to be ringing true in at least these actions, these claims of actions like 15,000. Will it actually happen that 15,000 troops go on or will it be limited to 5,000? That’s still a question. But regardless, in terms of active military deployment at once, I don’t think there’s ever been anything like it before.

So it does have that real historic significance. If it goes to 15,000, then you have more troops that are deployed than are deployed in Afghanistan on the border. And so what is already a massive militarized apparatus, as we were just discussing, then becomes even more bolstered. And so it does come with significance, but I would say it almost seems like a campaign slogan or campaign commercial of some sort as well.

AARON MATE: We’ll leave it there. Todd Miller, author and journalist. His latest book is Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration and Homeland Security. Todd, thank you.

TODD MILLER: Thank you.

AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.