Now we know what the equipment will do. Rather than send 800 troops to the southern border, as reported last week, the Trump administration plans to deploy 5,000 troops to help secure it as multiple migrant “caravans” from Central America approach it. The Wall Street Journal reports that the deployment even has a mission name — “Operation Faithful Patriot”:
The U.S. military plans to deploy 5,000 troops to the southwest U.S. border in anticipation of a caravan of would-be asylum seekers and migrants currently moving northward in Mexico, U.S. officials said Monday.
The new figure is a major increase from initial estimates of 800 troops and would represent a military force equal to about one-third the number of customs officials currently working at the border. The military sent about 2,000 National Guard troops to the area earlier this year.
The U.S. and federal law-enforcement officials said troops are likely to be deployed to ports of entry, at least in initial phases of the U.S. military mission, which the Pentagon has named Operation Faithful Patriot.
The initial reported deployment of 800 troops made little sense other than as a symbolic gesture. A deployment of 5,000 is significantly more substantial. That would equal a little over 25% of all Customs and Border Patrol agents, a clear boost to operational ability — assuming that the infusion of help can be accomplished effectively. As the WSJ notes, 5,000 troops is a larger deployment than we have in Syria and Iraq, at least officially, and about half of what we have in the field in Afghanistan in our longest war ever.
The integration plan seems pretty well thought out. The Army will take up the detention processes in three states and commit resources to building new facilities if needed:
Under the latest plans, about 1,800 troops will go to Texas, 1,700 to Arizona and 1,500 to California. The troops will be drawn from about 10 U.S. Army installations and consist largely of military police and engineers, one of the U.S. officials said. U.S. Marines also will be deployed, the U.S. official said.
That would leave more resources to the CBP for the job of securing the border themselves. Donald Trump reminded followers on Twitter of the security issues arguably attendant to the caravans, although Trump appears to have dropped references to “Middle Easterners”:
Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border. Please go back, you will not be admitted into the United States unless you go through the legal process. This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 29, 2018
Will it work? Maybe, maybe not, but the point is to show an executive acting like an executive in defending the country’s borders. Contrast this to the lack of effective action that took place during the “children’s caravans” a few years back in the Obama administration. The conventional wisdom was that it was impossible to secure the border against unwanted intrusions, even in the Republican Party. Voters wondered why no one was even bothering to try to secure the border, either with more personnel and a tougher entry policy, a wall, or both.
It’s a cliché by now, but it’s true in this case — this is how we got Trump. He alone focused on the anger in the electorate over three decades of shrugging at the issue, and he defeated the entire field by promising action. Democrats have stymied the wall, but they can’t do much about this executive action, and it’s hitting at just the right moment to reinvigorate the voters who put Trump in office.
Andrew Sullivan warns Democrats that they have to stop ignoring voters on immigration if they expect to compete, both now and in 2020:
But it doesn’t answer a simple question. What do we do when the caravan gets here? And more saliently: What do we do if many more caravans show up behind it? This is not an abstract question. It’s a pressing, practical, and in some ways existential one. It cuts to the core of whether the United States has to choose between being inhumane to the point of betraying some core moral principles and remaining a sovereign nationin control of who joins its population. …
All of it is putting unprecedented strain on liberal democracy in the West itself. The connection between mass migration and the surge in far-right parties in Europe is now indisputable. Without this issue, Donald Trump would not be president. As we can see right now in front of our eyes, elections can turn on this. Which is why Trump is hyping this caravan story to the heavens — and why, perhaps, the last few weeks have seemed less promising for a “blue wave.” David Frum is right: “If liberals insist that only fascists will defend borders, then voters will hire fascists to do the job liberals will not do.” And unless the Democrats get a grip on this question, and win back the trust of the voters on it, their chance of regaining the presidency is minimal. Until one Democratic candidate declares that he or she will end illegal immigration, period, shift legal immigration toward those with skills, invest in the immigration bureaucracy, and enforce the borders strongly but humanely, Trump will continue to own this defining policy issue in 2020.
This is not a passing crisis. It is the new normal, and its optics do nothing but intensify the cultural panic that is turning much of the West to authoritarianism as a response. The porousness of the West’s borders are, in other words, becoming a guarantee of the West’s liberal democratic demise. This particular caravan will take a while to make it to the U.S. border, if it ever does. It will surely lose some followers on the way. It may peter out altogether.
But the caravan as a symbol? Its days are just beginning.
Trump understands this, apparently alone, which is why Operation Faithful Patriot will likely endure through 2020. And beyond.