WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

29 Oct 2018 | Press Release

Questions to Ask About the Unprecedented Military Deployment to the U.S.-Mexico Border

Washington, DC—Today at 4 p.m. EDT, top military and border officials will host a joint press conference on the deployment of 5,000 active duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. According to reports, the troops will join some 2,100 members of the National Guard who were sent to the border earlier this year in reaction to an earlier migrant caravan (of which only about 500 ever made it to the border, most of them asking for asylum at ports of entry).

Adam Isacson, Director for Defense Oversight at research and advocacy group the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), an organization with decades of experience in civil-military relations in the hemisphere, issued the following reaction:

“The men and women of the U.S. military work hard to protect us from real threats. It is beyond cynical, and sets a terrible precedent, to exploit them for political stagecraft in the run-up to an election. The migrant caravan is mostly children and families. Most plan to ask for asylum if they make it to the U.S. border, and most will not make it. By the time they get here, the so-called caravan may be just a few hundred people. Unless soldiers are being trained to fill in asylum forms and to care for kids and moms, this is the very opposite of what the U.S. military’s mission is.”

Key questions to ask about the proposed military deployment, compiled by WOLA:

1.) How much will this cost? If it’s $200 per soldier per day in logistical costs, that’s a million dollars per day. Based on past National Guard deployments, the actual cumulative cost of sending in 5,000 troops will likely be much greater.

2.) Will military personnel come into any contact with migrants? Reportedly, they will be supporting border officials by performing duties that will not bring them into direct dealings with migrants, but it’s quite possible this will happen anyway. What training do members of the military have for dealing with asylum seekers?

3.) Is there an expectation that military personnel will be responsible for crowd control? Most are trained for combat: will the deployed troops have specialized training for non-combat situations?

4.) Will military personnel come into contact with U.S. citizens on the U.S. side of the border? For instance, will soldiers be manning checkpoints? Searching people and vehicles? Patrolling on U.S. soil? Interrogating people? Assisting with arrests? Officially, the troops will likely be ordered not to come into contact with U.S. citizens—regardless, it’s worth asking about the likelihood that the deployment result in violations of the Posse Comitatus Act, the law which limits the federal government’s ability to use the army to enforce domestic policies. As the U.S.-Mexico border is nothing like a war zone, what measures will be taken to minimize the possibility of abuse to human rights and civil liberties?

5.) Will military personnel carry weapons with live ammunition? While National Guard personnel on border missions do carry loaded weapons, active-duty personnel do not. This change was made after a 1997 incident when a U.S. Marine on a border counter-drug mission accidentally killed a U.S. citizen on his own land in Texas.

6.) Will military personnel be surveilling U.S. citizens’ movements, images, and communications on the U.S. side of the border, whether deliberately or as a consequence of broader surveillance? What are the implications for the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. citizens in the border region, should they come under military surveillance in their everyday activities?

7.) If Border Patrol personnel are tied up processing hundreds of asylum claims, what Border Patrol duties would be left undone and requiring assistance? Will military personnel take on these tasks (which would likely include remote surveillance, monitoring of sensors, and maintenance of equipment and vehicles)?  Aren’t the 2,000-plus National Guard personnel deployed earlier this year already carrying out those “back-end” tasks?  What makes this new deployment different from the National Guard deployment?

See WOLA’s other resources on the U.S.-Mexico border:

  • Commentary: Nine questions (and answers) about the Central American migrant caravan.
  • A fact sheet about Central American asylum seekers and U.S. immigration laws.
  • Press release: Trump’s unprecedented plan to block all migrants at the southern border, including asylum seekers, would be an affront to American values.
  • Video: In their own words, Central American children describe the conditions that drove them to flee their homes and the risks they faced traveling through Mexico.