The Slatest

The U.S. Military’s Border Mission Seems to Have Peaked and Could End Soon

Razor wire in South Texas near the US-Mexico border.
Razor wire stretches out in the morning fog at the Rio Grande on the U.S.-Mexico border on November 5, 2018 in Donna, Texas.
John Moore/Getty Images

The U.S. military’s deployment to the southern border seems to have climaxed, more than a week after the midterm elections and long before the bulk of the Central American migrant caravan is expected to arrive at the U.S. border with Mexico.

The mission once dubbed Operation Faithful Patriot (but not anymore) is scheduled to run for another month, which the commander in charge, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, described as a “hard date.” He also told Reuters that he has no “indications that CBP is going to need us to do our work for longer than that.” He also said that he thought troop levels had reached their peak and that while “we might increase by a hundred here or there,” they probably wouldn’t. About 6,000 troops are deployed at the border in California, Arizona, and Texas.

The military’s role at the border—limited by U.S. law—is not to actually stop or apprehend migrants who are crossing illegally but instead to support border authorities, largely by constructing barriers. While the bulk of the caravan is hundreds of miles to the south, some migrants have arrived in Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, and they intend to try to enter the United States and apply for asylum at a border crossing. Meanwhile, almost half the U.S. troops are 1,500 miles away in Texas.

The apparent reduced scale of the military’s mission is out of step with the dramatic rhetoric Trump and other Republicans were using to describe the supposed threat from the migrant caravan, especially before the midterm elections last week. When Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen visited the troops Wednesday in Texas, Mattis, in response to questions from the assembled troops, could offer little concrete rationale for what they were doing there.

“This is a mission that’s nontraditional because it’s here in our country. Generally, we do homeland security overseas,” Mattis said, according to BuzzFeed News. When asked what the goals of the deployment were, Mattis said, “Short term right now, you get the obstacles in so the border patrolmen can do what they gotta do,” referring to the now-famous concertina wire Trump praised as beautiful. “Longer term, it’s somewhat to be determined.” He did say, echoing the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, that the mission was “absolutely legal.”

The only historical parallel he could identify was when troops were deployed in the United States and then into Mexico itself in 1916 to deal with Pancho Villa, the Mexican revolutionary who controlled vast swathes of Mexican territory and launched raids into the United States.