President Donald Trump isn’t getting his long-promised border wall. Instead, the president is deploying the National Guard to help border patrol agents secure America’s southern border. Outside of the moral pitfalls that the potential border wall presented, some security experts doubted whether an extensive, largely unmanned wall would be effective anyway. The National Guard might actually prove more effective.
Somewhere between 2,000 to 4,000 National Guard members will be deployed along the border with Mexico. The National Guard will be deployed in a support role and may even be unarmed. Either way, the National Guard is finding itself stepping into a complex situation.
The National Guard had previously been deployed along the border by the Bush administration from 2006 to 2008 and also by the Obama administration in 2010 and 2011. However, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 limits the role that the military can take in civilian law enforcement matters. As such, the National Guard will likely be helping behind the scenes with surveillance, vehicle maintenance, observation, and other tasks that are unlikely to put them in direct contact with people illegally crossing the border. Once someone is spotted, border patrol agents can be called in to deal with the situation.
However, changing trends in illegal immigration are adding complications to border enforcement. In the past, roughly 90 percent of crossers arrested were men from Mexico looking for jobs. Their legal violations were clear and once they crossed the border, the law enforcement situation was quite straightforward as far as border patrol was concerned. They had crossed illegally and thus were due to be deported.
Now, Mexican job seekers make up only about 4 of 10 people arrested for crossing illegally into America. Increasingly, women and children from Central America are making the dangerous trek north, hoping to find not jobs but, instead, asylum in the United States. Rather than hiding from authorities, many actually seek them out in order to claim asylum. In fact, asylum requests surged by 25 percent in 2017 compared to 2016.
Most of the refugees are coming from the “Northern Triangle,” which consists of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Besides the United States, many people are seeking refuge in Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama. That the Northern Triangle is the most unstable region in Central America should come as no surprise. All three countries were afflicted by instability and civil war throughout the 1980s, leaving behind weak civil institutions and governance.
Legally (and in my opinion morally), such asylum seekers can’t simply be deported but must instead have their cases heard. While the drug war in Mexico draws the most headlines, the situation further south, in Central America, is perhaps even more dire. According to the Fragile States Index, both Guatemala and Honduras are considerably more unstable than Mexico, while El Salvador is about on par. Violence in these countries has surged over the past decade.
It’s hard not to feel sympathy for people who are trying to escape violence. Back in 2015, then-commander of U.S. Southern Command John Kelly (now White House chief of staff) admitted, “In many ways [parents] are trying to save their children from the violence in their own countries.”
For the National Guard, which is more frequently deployed to disaster-ravaged regions rather than combat zones, the humanitarian angle will add further complications. Moreover, the Trump administration will likewise find itself walking a thin line, trying to balance human rights concerns and border security.