Editorial: Troops not necessary to welcome migrant caravan


Gina Ferazzi/Los AngelesTimes/TNS

Eulalia Dalila Pojoy Cuyuch, 33, of Guatemala (far right) and her family say goodbye to a friend as they wait along the border fence to turn themselves into U.S. Customs on June 14, asking for asylum in Tijuana, Mexico.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Thousands of migrants have crossed more than 2,500 miles on foot, fleeing persecution from violence and poverty in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to seek asylum in the United States. The migrants — many of whom are families with children — arrived at the U.S. border last week, but were greeted Sunday by almost 6,000 armed troops.

An order from the White House gives these troops permission to use “a show or use of force (including lethal force, where necessary), crowd control, temporary detention, and cursory search” to protect Customs and Border Protection personnel. This is yet another example of the Trump administration’s inability to humanely and intelligently deal with immigration.

While deploying thousands of active-duty troops to the southern border to meet exhausted defenseless people may sound unnecessary to many, Secretary of Defense James Mattis backed the president’s order as a reasonable measure, based on previous confrontations between migrants and Mexican authorities.

“It is not an unreasonable concern on the part of the president that we may have to back up Border Patrol,” he said. “I think part of this is just by putting in the crowd control barriers and the barbed wire. If there’s one thing you don’t … want to walk through, any of us as human beings, it’s barbed wire; even cows are smart enough to stay away from that stuff.”

Besides comparing the migrants to farm animals, Mattis also highlighted what’s wrong with the Trump administration’s response to the migrant caravan — it’s treating this group of people like a threat to the country when the people involved only want to escape persecution. Thousands of troops are at the border helping to string wire and build barriers as if they were readying to hold off enemy forces. But these migrants could not be any further from an enemy army.

Many migrants cite the threat of gang violence as their reason for joining the caravan. One woman says she left Honduras because a gang mistook a tattoo of her parents’ names as a gang symbol and threatened to kill her. Another family left because their son refused to sell drugs for a gang and they threatened to kill him. The United States is using a threat of violence against people who come from violence.

Instead of using the manpower we’ve devoted to attempting to secure the border, a better use of military force would be setting up a large asylum processing facility that could help these people apply for asylum in an orderly way. The president evidently thinks he has the resources to militantly handle the situation.

The situation is indeed a costly one. The Pentagon estimated the active-duty deployment would cost $72 million, but Mattis thinks it will cost even more. In total, the cost of troops deployed at the U.S.-Mexico border is likely to reach about $483 million by the end of September 2019.

The United States is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on this issue without working toward any kind of resolution for people who have uprooted their lives in the hopes of finding better ones here. If the government going to spend that kind of money anyway, it should be to help them, not to literally build walls.

The migrants have a right to apply for asylum. They aren’t attempting to enter the country illegally, and we’ve known for a long time now that they were coming to our border — the caravan has been traveling for over a month. There’s no need for violence or barbed wire — we should assist them in every way we can as they apply for asylum so the applications can be processed as swiftly as possible. The longer we delay and militarise the process, the more innocent people suffer, and the more likely acts of completely preventable violence by troops become.