Taxpayers are footing the bill for sending U.S. troops to the Mexican border, which the Pentagon estimates will cost $72 million.
President Trump ordered the deployment of 5,900 military personnel shortly before the Nov. 6 mid-term elections, claiming armed forces were needed to stop the so-called “caravan” of immigrants marching northward through Mexico.
Trump's critics denounced the action as a political stunt designed to help Republican congressional candidates. The strategy failed, as Democrats seized control of the House of Representatives and Republicans barely held onto their majority in the Senate.
Since the election, the president apparently has lost interest. He no longer talks or tweets about the caravan, which he previously described as an “invasion” of the United States. Trump insisted that his policy was targeting illegal immigration, despite reports that most of the migrants plan to lawfully apply for asylum.
Pentagon officials said their newly released estimate of the military deployment's expenses reflects the “cost to deploy, operate, sustain and redeploy forces” through Dec. 15. The troops are scheduled to end the assignment at that time, even though most of the Central Americans are not likely to even reach the border by then.
“The total cost of the operation has yet to be determined and will depend on the total size, duration and scope of the support to (the Department of) Homeland Security,” Col. Rob Manning, a Defense Department spokesman, explained.
Expenses are projected to surpass $200 million when the $138 million cost of deploying 2,100 National Guard members is added to the total, according to The Associated Press. Those troops have been at the border for more than seven months.
With most of the caravan still hundreds of miles away, the troops have not had much to do. Some of them are keeping busy by installing barbed-wire barriers along portions of the border. The Army announced Tuesday that it may soon “shift some forces to other areas of the border to engineering support missions in California and other areas.”
At last report, 2,800 troops were in Texas, with 1,500 in Arizona and 1,300 in California. That is changing because the migrants are heading to Mexicali or Tijuana, Mexican cities just south of California.
Three Democrats – Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Rep. Jackie Speier of California and Beto O'Rourke of Texas – are demanding answers. In a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis on Tuesday, they wrote: “You have made lethality and readiness for the high-end fight your number one priority. … But we fail to see how sending troops to the border to lay concertina wire in response to a group of migrants serves that end.”
Without citing any evidence, Trump insisted that the caravan includes Latin American gang members and Middle Eastern terrorists. He falsely warned that the migrants were causing “crime and big problems in Mexico.”
Reporters who actually spoke with the marchers found primarily families with children escaping gang violence, government oppression and poverty in their home countries. The migrants tell horrific stories of the conditions they experienced, such as kidnapping and extortion.
They are clearly desperate refugees, willing to risk new threats like Trump's family-separation policy at the border just to have a chance for a better life. There is no guarantee of asylum, especially since the president has reduced the number of applications that authorities may approve.
The migrants are traveling as a group to have some protection from drug cartels, human traffickers, law-enforcement officers and others who would do them harm. U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has accused the refugees of “putting women and children in front of this caravan to use as shields as they make their way through.”
Homeland Security officials used the same language in a recent statement demonizing the migrants. Common Dreams noted that the term “shields” implies that the refugees are adversaries and therefore military targets. Describing the caravan as an “invasion” also justifies the deployment of troops, even though what the refugees really need are humanitarian aid and legal assistance.
Advocates for the migrants are worried about possible physical conflicts between soldiers and asylum seekers. Racist vigilantes may pose an even greater threat of violence. Hundreds of militia group members and other armed civilians have gathered at the border.
A Texas Minuteman volunteer told The Washington Post: “I can't put a number on it. … People (are) coming from Oregon, Indiana. We've even got two from Canada.”
Even without the military and the vigilantes, migrants are in constant fear of the Border Patrol. Agents not only apprehend and jail border crossers; they sometimes kill them.
Immigration-enforcement officers also target humanitarian organizations that provide life-saving assistance to people crossing the Southwest deserts. A member of the No More Deaths group in Arizona is facing a jail sentence for giving away food and water. He was arrested shortly after posting a video from a motion-detection camera that showed Border Patrol agents destroying water jugs placed along migrant trails.