Military Deployment To Southern Border Extended Through End Of Year

Defense Secretary James Mattis has announced that the deployment of U.S. troops to the Mexican border will be extended through the end of this year.

The Defense Department is extending the deployment of American troops to the U.S./Mexican border to at least the end of the year:

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis extended the deployment of active-duty troops on the southwestern border into January, Defense Department officials said Tuesday.

The military’s border mission was slated to end Dec. 15, but the White House and the Department of Homeland Security had requested to continue using the troops as an additional bulwark against migrants from Central America entering the United States.

The requests came after Border Patrol agents fired tear gas at migrants trying to illegally enter the United States from Tijuana, Mexico.

The extended deployment would include aviation, medical, engineering and military police support, a Defense Department official said on Tuesday. That includes military planes to transport Border Patrol staff and setting up additional concertina wire.

Notwithstanding the fact that the mission is being continued, it’s still hard to see exactly what is being accomplished by deploying military forces at the border other than having them serve as some sort of symbolic example that the Administration is doing “something” about the alleged threat of a caravan of Central American migrants who are simply interested in applying for asylum here in the United States. For the most part, it appears that they are doing the same thing that Border Patrol and ICE officers would be doing, and while that may arguably be helpful in allowing them to do concentrate on doing their jobs, it hardly seems like a sufficient reason to keep more than 5,000 members of the military on the border through the holidays when there really isn’t any reason for them to be there.

This is especially true given the fact that there is, in reality, very little that member of the military can do in this situation.

Generally speaking, the active duty military is prohibited from conducting operations that amount to domestic law enforcement, which would include apprehending people at or near the border. This prohibition is principally covered by the Posse Comitatus Act which, as Josh Marshall noted in a Talking Points Memo post earlier this year, places strict limits on what the military can and cannot do:

[The Posse Comitatus Act] makes two things clear. 1) Soldiers and other military personnel can’t enforce US laws within the United States and 2) They can’t detain or search people or do most of the things that usually go along with police authority in the United States. There are other things they can’t do. But those are the key ones relevant to the border.

As Marshall goes on to note, a Congressional Research Service report [PDF] from 2013 outlines the limitations that the act places on the use of military forces in this context:

The primary restriction on military participation in civilian law enforcement activities is the Posse Comitatus Act (PCA).21 The PCA prohibits the use of the Army and Air Force to execute the domestic laws of the United States except where expressly authorized by the Constitution or Congress. The PCA has been further applied to the Navy and Marine Corps by legislative and administrative supplements. For example, 10 U.S.C. Section 375 directs the Secretary of Defense to promulgate regulations forbidding the direct participation “by a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines in a search, seizure, arrest, or other similar activity” during support activities to civilian law enforcement agencies. DOD issued Directive 5525.5, which outlines its policies and procedures for supporting federal, state, and local LEAs. DOD Directive 5525.5 prohibits the following forms of direct assistance: (1) interdiction of a vehicle, vessel, aircraft, or other similar activity; (2) a search or seizure; (3) an arrest, apprehension, stop and frisk, or similar activity; and (4) use of military personnel in the pursuit of individuals, or as undercover agents, informants, investigators, or interrogators. It is generally accepted that the PCA does not apply to the actions of the National Guard when not in federal service.22 As a matter of policy, however National Guard regulations stipulate that its personnel are not, except for exigent circumstances or as otherwise authorized, to participate directly in the arrest or search of suspects or the general public.

In other words, the military cannot be used to act as a heavily armed substitute for the border patrol.

When we were dealing with this issue back in the spring, Cato’s Alex Nowrasteh called the idea of using the military at the border “unnecessary and dangerous”:

President Trump has ordered troops to the border to help the current number of 19,437 Border Patrol agents apprehend the roughly 1,000 Central American asylum seekers who are slowly making their way north (but probably won’t make it all the way to the border). There are currently about 19 Border Patrol agents for each Central American asylum-seeker in this caravan. In 2017, Border Patrol apprehended about 360,000 illegal immigrants or about 18 per Border Patrol agents over the entire year, which works out to one apprehension per Border Patrol agents every 20 days. By that measure, Border Patrol agents in 1954 individually apprehended an average of 53 times as many illegal immigrants as Border Patrol agents did in 2017. If the current caravan makes it to the United States border, it would add about a single day’s worth of apprehensions. Border Patrol should be able to handle this comparatively small number of asylum seekers without military aid as they have done so before many times.

It is also unclear what the troops will actually accomplish on the border. Since the members of the caravan intend to surrender to Border Patrol or Customs Officers and ask for asylum, the troops serve no purpose. They will not deter asylum seekers. Border Patrol agents are not overwhelmed by entries even though they constantly plead poverty in an effort to capture more taxpayer resources. The most likely explanation for the proposed deployment is politics, just like the previous deployments.


[T]he proposed deployment of American troops to the border without a clear mission at a time of low and falling illegal immigrant entries is an unnecessary waste of time and resources that could put Americans in harm’s way for no gain.

As Norwatesh also points out, deployment of troops to the border also has the potential to cause further strain on America’s relations with Mexico, which are already strained in light of President Trump’s numerous insults hurled at Mexican immigrants and his insistence on a border wall that Mexico would pay for. And, now, to make things worse, more than 5,000 American troops are being forced to spend the holidays apart from their families largely because of a publicity stunt on the part of the Administration.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Military Affairs, National Security, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. al Ameda says:

    The military’s border mission was slated to end Dec. 15, but the White House and the Department of Homeland Security had requested to continue using the troops as an additional bulwark against migrants from Central America entering the United States.

    The requests came after Border Patrol agents fired tear gas at migrants trying to illegally enter the United States from Tijuana, Mexico.

    Trump has successfully created an ‘Immigration Crisis!” where there was none.

    No matter that the facts (admittedly Deep State originated) show that since 2008 net illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America is zero. This ‘Crisis!’ is media-genic, and plays well with 40% of the public who will believe anything that scares them to death.

  2. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Fvcking political stunt.
    Someone needs to bitch-slap Cadet Bone Spurs.

  3. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Thanksgiving and Christmas away from their families for the sake of a dog and pony show on behalf of MAWA? SOOOOOOOOOO much winning. No wonder we’re sick of it.

  4. Gustopher says:

    At least it’s warm. The troops might like that more than being deployed at our northern border in December and January.

    If Trump needs to manufacture a crisis next summer, I hope he takes the troops into account and deploys them in the Pacific Northwest, before the fire season and all the smoke. June and July are lovely, and if the troops are being (ab)used as props, they should at least get good weather out of it.

    There are good tamales in Yakima, and that might require a massive military presence. Also, a person from Tacoma is called a Tacoman. We can’t be too careful about Taco men.

  5. Kathy says:

    Is this like “the show was renewed for another season”?

  6. Teve says:

    @al Ameda: the average foxnews viewer is a month from being embalmed. if I were their program director I’d be running this Scary Brown caravan 24/7.