Trump misused American soldiers as political pawns

President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump tweets ICE will begin removing 'millions' of undocumented migrants MORE recently defended his decision to send thousands of active-duty troops to the border saying: “They build great fences, they built a very powerful fence. The fence is fully manned, nobody gets through.” There are approximately 5,800 troops at our Southern border now, ostensibly to protect the U.S. from what Trump has called an “invasion” by members of a migrant caravan. Trump said that the troops will be there “as long as necessary.”

If that were true, then the troops would be home by now.

Not only are members of the caravan not invading the U.S., the troops sent to the border lack a legitimate mission. Their deployments amount to a misuse of military force for political gain.

ADVERTISEMENT

Before the midterms, Trump obsessively warned of the caravan, asserting that hardened criminals and “unknown Middle Easterners” were within its ranks. He labeled the situation a national emergency and called up the troops. Yet once Election Day passed, he seemed to forget about this supposed national security threat. He’s tweeted only a few times about the caravan, as it has continued to slowly make its way northward. Some members have already reached Tijuana, where many hope to exercise their lawful right to apply for asylum. Thus far, there has been no credible evidence to suggest that they pose a danger to the United States.

So what are the troops at the border doing? According to the New York Times, they are living in un-air-conditioned tents and eating MRE rations. They are putting up wire along the banks of the Rio Grande, doing clerical jobs, and providing logistical support to Border Patrol agents. That’s about all they can do; by law, U.S. troops are prohibited from enforcing immigration law on American soil. They cannot arrest undocumented immigrants, seize drugs, or conduct searches. This reality begs the question of why the troops are there in the first place.

There are roughly the same number of troops at the Southern border as we have in Iraq (5,000). Defense officials have yet to give a cost estimate for the deployment, although figures from outside organizations put the amount at between $42 and $110 million.

Meanwhile, overall illegal border crossings are at historic lows.

It speaks volumes that Secretary of Defense James MattisJames Norman MattisTop nuclear official quietly left Pentagon in April Top nuclear official quietly left Pentagon in April Overnight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One MORE could only offer a weak rationale for what is clearly a politically-motivated mission. Last week, he likened the deployment to former President Wilson’s 1916 border deployment to counter Francisco “Pancho” Villa. Really? It’s hard to see how the Mexican revolutionary bears any kind of comparison to the unarmed men, women, and children in the caravan who are seeking lawful humanitarian relief. Visiting troops in Texas, Mattis also told them that they could serve as “confidence builders” for Border Patrol officers. That is a lame premise for a military exercise and an insult to the professionalism of Border Patrol agents.

Sure, other presidents, including Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBroadway play 'Hillary and Clinton' closing early due to low ticket sales Broadway play 'Hillary and Clinton' closing early due to low ticket sales Campaign dads fit fatherhood between presidential speeches MORE and George W. Bush, sent National Guard troops to the border. In 2010, Obama sent 1,200 National Guardsmen to the border. But he did this more than five months before the midterms, while Trump’s order came less than two weeks before Election Day. Obama’s order resulted in part from staffing shortfalls at the Border Patrol. In contrast, Trump’s partisan order runs the risk of undermining public trust in our armed forces.

This Thanksgiving, some military families will be needlessly separated – while Trump relaxes with his family at his Mar-A-Lago resort – and that is unacceptable. Active-duty service members deserve to be treated with respect, not used as pawns in the president’s political theater.

Raul A. Reyes is an immigration attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.  A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, he is also a contributor to NBCNews.com and CNN Opinion. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaulAReyes, Instagram: raulareyes1.