The declared emergency on the southern border might get a little more emergent in coming days. Donald Trump ripped Mexico over a bizarre confrontation earlier this month in which their military drew weapons on two American soldiers on the US side of the border. In response, Trump announced the movement of “ARMED SOLDIERS” to the border and accused Mexico’s military of running cover for drug lords:
A very big Caravan of over 20,000 people started up through Mexico. It has been reduced in size by Mexico but is still coming. Mexico must apprehend the remainder or we will be forced to close that section of the Border & call up the Military. The Coyotes & Cartels have weapons!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 24, 2019
Mexico’s Soldiers recently pulled guns on our National Guard Soldiers, probably as a diversionary tactic for drug smugglers on the Border. Better not happen again! We are now sending ARMED SOLDIERS to the Border. Mexico is not doing nearly enough in apprehending & returning!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 24, 2019
That sounds bad, but it’s also not accurate. The incident occurred on April 13th near Clint, Texas, according to a Northern Command press statement. It involved armed American soldiers, which in fact was one of the issues in the confrontation. Apparently the Mexican soldiers got confused as to where the border was and thought the Americans had crossed over into Mexico rather than the other way around:
The encounter took place south of the border fence in the area but north of the Rio Grande, the officials said. However, the officials said the river in that area consists of brush-filled and dried-out riverbed, making it “very easy” for people to be confused as to what side of the border they are on.
One of the American soldiers spoke some Spanish and was able to explain the situation to the Mexican forces. The two sides talked the incident over and promised to de-conflict in the future, the officials said.
“An inquiry by (Customs and Border Patrol) and (the Department of Defense) revealed that the Mexican military members believed that the US Army soldiers were south of the border,” Northern Command said while adding that the US troops were north of the border.
“Though they were south of the border fence, US soldiers remained in US territory, north of the actual border,” the statement said, adding that “after a brief discussion between the soldiers from the two nations, the Mexican military members departed the area.”
The incident barely made the news over the last couple of weeks. If the Mexican soldiers honestly thought the US soldiers crossed into Mexico, they would have been correct in stopping them — just as we would have done had the shoe been on the other foot, or the foot been on the other bank. Northern Command seemed satisfied as of last Friday that the whole thing was a misunderstanding and not a “diversionary tactic” for drug lords or anyone else. Trump’s tweet has been the only indication that the public assessment by DoD and CBP of the incident has been challenged, let alone changed.
Why bring this up almost two weeks later? Perhaps Trump’s utilizing a diversionary tactic of his own. Axios reports that Jared Kushner has begun privately briefing Senate Republicans on a new comprehensive immigration reform package, pulling together his allies from Kushner’s successful prison-reform effort:
Before Congress broke for Easter, Kushner began briefing a select group of Republican senators. Sens. Mike Lee, John Cornyn and Lindsey Graham — all of whom were involved in Kushner’s criminal justice reform initiative — have been briefed on the top-level details of the plan.
Kushner has worked with White House advisor Stephen Miller, Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Kevin Hassett and various outside groups, including within the Koch Network, in drafting the proposal.
What’s next: Kushner has assembled a team of lawyers within the White House to aid him in transforming the proposal into legislation. He has also asked Hassett’s Council of Economic Advisers to do modeling to “make sure the plan has positive effects on GDP growth and wage growth,” according to another person familiar with the plan.
The backdrop: After his win on prison reform, Kushner has spent months focused on finding an immigration compromise — a goal that has eluded both parties for many years.
Trump would want Kushner’s plan to come out ahead of a Democratic effort that is also close to emerging in the House:
Hispanic Democrats are charging ahead with plans to move a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year, bolstered by recently secured support from some of the party’s top brass.
Leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) are drafting a measure that some Democratic leaders say they are ready to bring to the floor after the chamber tackles legislation that would both create a path to citizenship for so-called Dreamers under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and strengthen protections for temporary protected status (TPS) beneficiaries.
“We need to move forward first on the DACA and the TPS — people who have been here making America better, creating jobs,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said this month during the Democrats’ retreat in Northern Virginia. “And then we need to move very quickly onto comprehensive immigration reform.”
Whether the comprehensive package ends up getting a floor vote is uncertain, especially heading into a crucial 2020 election cycle when Democratic leaders may want to avoid an issue that’s likely to divide the diverse caucus. In addition, the legislation would face long odds in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Trump could be seizing on this incident to play “bad cop” and shape the political battleground for Kushner to play “good cop.” The harder Trump pushes with his executive authority on border issues, the more welcome a Republican comprehensive reform plan might be, at least theoretically.
In reality, neither party has wanted to actually solve this problem — it’s too effective at churning up their bases ahead of election cycles. Perhaps Trump wants to push the limits in order to get both parties to seriously negotiate immigration policies. With an election around the corner, though, don’t bet on it.
Update: Fixed the quote in the headline – Trump tweeted “armed soldiers,” not “armed troops.”