In Depth

Why Trump is really sending 5,200 troops to US border

US president accused of stoking immigration fears ahead of critical midterm elections

Donald Trump is sending more than 5,000 American troops to the Mexico border, in what government officials claim is a necessary response to thousands of asylum seekers heading to the US.

The forces, deployed as part of what is being called Operation Faithful Patriot, “will include military police, pilots, and engineers and will be in the area from 5 November to 15 December”, reports Vox.

The goal is to “harden [the US’s] ports of entry in California, Arizona and Texas”, according to Customs and Border Protection chief Kevin McAleenan.

The announcement of the move, just days before the midterm elections, “has intensified criticism that the president is using the military for political gain”, says The New York Times.

A caravan of around 4,000 Central American migrants – including entire families and the elderly – has been moving slowly north since mid-October and is now in southern Mexico. But the group is still “2,000 miles by road and weeks away from reaching a US port of entry, where most are expected to seek asylum as the law allows”, says The Guardian.

Trump’s decision to send more US troops will take the total number of military personnel on the southern frontier to some 7,000 - “about 5,000 more than America has in Syria to fight Isis and approximately one-third the size of the entire Border Patrol force at the US-Mexico line”, reports Vox.

“This is using the troops as props,” said Jason Dempsey, who served as an Army infantry officer in Iraq and Afghanistan and now works at the Center for a New American Security. “We’re using a bunch of people to waste their time while they backstop the Border Patrol.”

That view is shared by Shaw Drake, of the American Civil Liberties Union’s border rights centre at El Paso, Texas. “Sending active military forces to our southern border is not only a huge waste of taxpayer money, but an unnecessary course of action that will further terrorise and militarise our border communities,” said Drake.

Another problem for Trump is that “the military won’t actually be able to participate in detaining or deporting any of the migrants the way the president likely wants”, says Vox.

US law forbids the troops from physically detaining individuals at the border. Instead, they will be permitted only to assist US border officials with tasks such as helping transport border agents and providing emergency medical care to those who need it.

So “while it may be intended to look as if the US is preparing for a massive invasion of immigrants at the southern border”, the reality is that “it’s mostly just sending backup logistical support to help border agents address the arrival of a few thousand migrants who have been travelling by foot for weeks”, concludes Vox.

Despite such limitations, Trump has seized on the caravan at recent rallies ahead of the midterm elections, “hoping the issue will again fire up his core support”, says The Guardian.

“Many Gang Members and some very bad people are mixed into the Caravan heading to our Southern Border,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “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!”

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