U.S. Troops at the Border: When is the Time to Leave?

In October 2018, President Trump announced that he would be sending more than 5,000 active-duty military personnel to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to an approaching caravan of migrants. The troops would be there to support the Border Patrol and National Guard in their mission to secure the border. Currently, the Posse Comitatus Act prohibits active-duty troops from performing law enforcement activities.

The troops’ role on the border has been to conduct operations such as building barricades, serving food, and providing logistical support to the border agents. In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, more than 1,000 troops are still deployed. According to a Vice News interview, their primary role is to “harden” various areas that Border Patrol agents have identified as vulnerable spots by building barricades in these areas. They also help to maintain the readiness of the Border Patrol agents by repairing their vehicles and other equipment.

Although the troops are only supporting the Border Patrol, they have been serving in this auxiliary capacity for more than six months and there is no end in sight. Department of Defense officials are still unclear on when they will be taken off the border, as their deployment has been continually extended. The White House recently announced that it is spending an additional $377 million for the troops at the border. Such a cost seems unnecessary, as these military personnel are serving in roles that could be filled by civilians.

Moreover, being stationed at the U.S.-Mexico border detracts from the troops’ battle readiness. They are neither training and nor maintaining readiness for their primary role as a military force. The United States military’s primary role is to serve in the defense of the country. While deployed to the border as a supporting force, they are not able to train for future deployments or conflicts, and lack of military readiness is a national security risk.

Since their role could easily be filled by civilian contractors, the troops are not integral to the border security mission. They could return to their bases and continue training for future deployments.

There is a fierce debate between Republicans and Democrats over the broader issues of immigration reform and border security, but it is clear that the military is not needed at the border. Training needs to resume so that the troops can be prepared for future conflicts and deployments. Deploying them to the border severely inhibits their readiness and therefore weakens our country’s defense. It is time for the federal government to pull active-duty troops off the border and return them to their original purpose.