Trump wants to defend our borders. Democrats protest.

Summary: Trump will use our military to defend America’s borders. Democrats are shocked at this, and reply with mockery. Let’s look at the real world for answers.

The Great Wall of China



  1. Trump’s statement.
  2. Past deployments on the border.
  3. Government senility.
  4. Why to use the military.
  5. For More Information.

(1) From the statement from the White House on 4 April 2018

“To give our Border Patrol agents the support they deserve, President Trump is authorizing the deployment of National Guard units to the southern border to aid their mission. …

“Given the importance of secure borders to our national security, the National Guard, in coordination with governors, will remain in a support role until Congress takes the action necessary to close the loopholes undermining our border security efforts, including ending the practice of Catch and Release.

“This is not the first time in recent history that the National Guard has been deployed to the southern border. In 2012 {Ed. note: should be 2010, 1200 troops in Operation Phalanx}, President Barack Obama authorized the deployment of guardsmen to the border. President George W. Bush also authorized deployment of 6,000 guardsmen to the border as a part of Operation Jump Start, assisting in operations which resulted in the arrest of more than 173,000 illegal aliens, the rescue of 100 persons, and the seizure of more than 300,000 pounds of drugs. …

“More than a thousand people a day and more than 300,000 a year violate our sovereignty by illegally crossing the border. With our current laws and resources, we cannot stop illegal aliens from crossing the border or remove all of the illegal aliens we catch. Of the over 75,000 family units apprehended in FY 2017, only 2,605 were removed.

“Stonewalling by Members of Congress, however, has prevented our dedicated Border Patrol agents from getting the resources they so desperately need. Inaction has left glaring loopholes open and crucial legal authorities unauthorized, so the President is taking action and using his existing powers to fill these gaps.”

Marching for open borders in Washington on 27 January 2017.
Marching for open borders in Washington on 27 January 2017. Alex Brandon/AP.

(2) About past deployments on the border

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) evaluated the operations by Bush Jr. and Obama (report here). These deployments were requested by the governors of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.  The National Guard was activated under Title 32 – federally funded but commanded by the governors. Title 32 authorizes these units to conduct law enforcement activities, but the Secretaries of Defense limited their role – prohibiting them from making arrests. They cost $1.5 billion, pocket change compared to what we have burned in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The troops had slightly different roles. In Jump Start (June 2006-July 2008) the Guard’s mission included aviation, engineering, and entry identification. In Operation Phalanx (July 2010-September 2011) their mission was restricted to entry identification, criminal analysis, and command and control. If the National Guards was assigned a mission to conduct mobile patrols, then they would only be able to identify persons of interest and contact the Border Patrol to make possible arrests or seizures. Under these rules used they are not allowed to investigate crimes, stop and search vehicles, or seize drugs.

Under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, active duty forces are normally prohibited from direct participation in law enforcement, Congress has occasionally authorized them to provide support at the southwest border (usually to slow the drug trade). This included direct funding, military personnel, and equipment. These deployments support training, operations (e.g., mobile surveillance units), and engineering (e.g., constructing roads at the border). DoD’s manned and unmanned aircraft would be useful, but are not used.

Why limits the National Guard scope of action beyond those required by the law? Why use the Guard rather than active duty troops? The GAO gives the answer, some hard-core bureaucratic thinking.

“The National Guard mission limitations are based in part on concerns raised by both DOD and National Guard officials that civilians may not distinguish between Guardsmen and active duty military personnel in uniform, which may lead to the perception that the border is militarized.”

The GAO is clear about the price paid by this bureaucratic run-around. For example, by using the National Guard instead of active duty forces: the use of Guardsmen “for long-term missions in an involuntary status may have an adverse effect on future National Guard recruitment and retention.”

Update: Trump says he wants to send 2000 – 4000 troops to the border (from WaPo). This debunks the hysterical responses about the cost and stripping DoD’s efforts elsewhere.

Encircled by Red Tape

(3) Government senility, sclerosis, and senescence

After 235 years, our government is bound by self-imposed rolls of red tape: all these “concerns”, rules, and useful but over-applied laws. Defining defending the border as “law enforcement,” so that the military cannot assist as needed, is quite mad. Guarding our borders is the primary job of the US military. Patrolling the Mexican border was one of the Army’s major peacetime missions from 1846 until the Border Patrol was formed in 1924.

Also quite mad is that the President can more easily order invasions of foreign lands than order troops to protect our borders. Under the War Powers Resolution of 1973, the President can deploy US troops for 90 days without Congressional action. But we are told that Trump cannot order troops to protect the border without Congressional authorization, and that their actions are hobbled.

That does not mean that the military should be used now on our southern border. Merely that the debate is conducted on irrational terms – as is so often the case with public policy debates these days.

(4) Why the military is a useful tool for securing the border

Much of the border is desolate and inhospitable. Army and Marines are better trained and equipped for such duty than the unionized Border Patrol agents. They can conduct extended patrols, continuously surveilling large areas. Also, many of the intruders are heavily armed (one Border Patrol agent recommended to a friend that we use tanks in some areas). For a clear statement of their advantages see “Building the Mexican border wall” by Douglas Macgregor (Colonel, US Army, retired) in the Washington Times. See his Wikipedia entry and one of his book, Transformation Under Fire: Revolutionizing How America Fights. Color added.

“The obvious choice to man the border and supervise construction is the United States’ regular Army. From roughly 1846 to 1948, America’s border with Mexico was guarded by the regular Army of the United States. …

“Today’s regular Army is filled with soldiers, sergeants, lieutenants and captains that have secured Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan and Iraq’s border with its Syrian and Iranian neighbors. Like their predecessors that secured the Cold War inter-German and Czechoslovak Borders, these Army veterans have both the technical expertise and the personal experience with difficult rules of engagement to rapidly secure the border with Mexico.

“Naturally, the logic of this approach would collide with the contemporary use of Army forces to secure other peoples’ borders from the demilitarized zone on the Korean peninsula to Iraq and Syria.”

(5) For more information

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24 thoughts on “Trump wants to defend our borders. Democrats protest.”

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      Corruption is a problem, just as it is today with the Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies.

  1. Well, we know from the Mexican experience that the end result is better trained, more ruthless narcos, often drawn from the military.
    The only effective answer to reduce the profit in drugs, probably by a legalization/public health treatment such as Portugal uses. That way the addicts don’t fuel the epidemic.
    Meanwhile, it would help to hike the social cost of drug use.
    If drug use were routinely depicted as actions of pathetic losers rather than as daring self indulgences by glamorous, wealthy and powerful ‘role models’, it would be a good thing.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        Any use of the military risks degrading it. Long overseas deployments in unwinnable wars — this is destructive. Military forces tend to degrade during long periods of inaction or static defense.

        They are a tool, maintained at fantastic cost. If they can’t be used when needed because of risk of damage, why bother? Battleships were doomed as weapons as war when admirals considered them too precious to risk in combat.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      I doubt that the experience of other nations supports your theory about “end results.” America? The use of American troops to fight drugs in Afghanistan?

      China and Singapore had severe drug problems, and fixed them without legalization and massive public health programs. On the other hand, Portugal and some western European nations have successfully used those tools.

      I doubt there is a simple answer. Perhaps multiple tools are needed.

      The point of this post is much narrower: the debate about using troops is conducted along largely irrational lines. That is both ineffective and disturbing.

  2. Dear Mr Kummer,

    This is an elegant bookend to your previous post, both of which illustrate our collective inability to rationally discuss the problems which beset this nation. I am by nature a fairly rabid libertarian, but I am continually gobsmacked by reality. In this case, you cannot simultaneously have a generous welfare state, open borders, and social cohesion. If I had to pick one of the three to prioritize, I’d take social cohesion. People are not coming to the US with Common Sense, The Wealth of Nations, Scalia’s Heller opinion, and On the Death of Mrs Throckmorton’s Bullfinch tucked under their arms. I will admit this is precisely the conversation goes off the rails: rather than talk about issues of social cohesion and assimilation, I’m immediately and uncritically branded racist and anti-immigrant, which is not the case. I welcome immigrants from any ethnic background, provided they can be assimilated without unraveling what’s left of our tenuous social cohesion. That is not a problem that can be solved with name calling or pretending it doesn’t exist.

    You would think that border security would be one of the least controversial topics imaginable (as in strict and effective enforcement), but you’d be wrong, and it’s mind boggling. Again, this is the result of blind tribalism and not introspection. I can’t support open borders, because not everyone in the world is a morally grounded atheist libertarian (most people are not LOL). I cannot project what I wish to be true on reality. I have to deal with reality for what it is, but, increasingly, it seems a goodly portion of the US doesn’t want to trod that path.

    With best regards,


    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      (1) “you cannot simultaneously have a generous welfare state, open borders, and social cohesion.”

      That’s a brilliant observation — one of the classic impossible trinities!

      (2) “You would think that border security would be one of the least controversial topics imaginable (as in strict and effective enforcement), but you’d be wrong”

      The reason why reveals much. The Right wants labor costs hammered down, plus a population of easily led peons. The Left wants our social system wrecked, and sees migrants as reliable voters for their party. Despite the dreams of both sides, my guess is that only one will be big winners.

      The rest of us are just collateral damage.

  3. The military is routinely used for border patrol in Europe. Before Schengen, land border control was usually done by Gendarmeries (regular military with law enforcement duties). These days, you have several armies and navies supporting border control in the Balkans and the Mediterranean, even between Schengen countries (e.g. at the Brenner pass between Austria and Italy).

    It’s perhaps a debatable choice; the Germans don’t due it due to historical reasons, for instance. And continental Europe has a tradition of military support for police during law enforcement emergencies that the US may lack (e.g. for anti-terrorism in France, or against the Mafia in Italy). But it’s not exactly a shocking option in an advanced democracy. So, unless there is some US specificity I don’t understand, I don’t see the problem.

    1. To specify: in France and Italy, the only thing the military does it to take over regular street patrolling, so that civilian police can focus on the law enforcement emergencies. This seems to be well accepted by the general public.

      It’s not like in Brazil, where the army occasionally occupies the slums as if they were a combat zone; that doesn’t seem to work so well.

  4. “After 235 years, our government is bound by self-imposed rolls of red tape: all these “concerns”, rules, and useful but over-applied laws.”

    In hindsight, this was the work of the Deep State. Such red tape empowers career bureaucrats at the expense of our elected leaders–quite a power grab.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      That’s true, but not the real explanation. Every single post I write about American reform brings forth the response “It’s Not Our Fault.” We’re just the customers of the American cafe, whining that the service is not what people of such awesomeness deserves.

      The Founders gave us the machinery to govern ourselves. If we’re to lazy to operate it, that is our fault.

      The second stage excuses I get, in reply to the above, is that we face big bad people. Little weak us have to surrender without a fight. The Founders cry every time they hear this.

  5. Good post Larry.

    The common sense solution of Military manning the border needs to happen. You are correct in your view of how both R and L will not allow it due to their vested interests.

    You are a bit off when you mentioned the Border Patrol. As a rule they work their asses off in high risk operations. I have seen this first hand. I am very familiar with a certain sector of our border and have assisted DHS/BP on several occasions exactly like our Military is allowed to.

    Maybe civilian volunteers can organize to pick up the slack and keep the issue in the forefront.
    Force reform by forcing Congress to fix it.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “you are a bit off when you mentioned the Border Patrol. As a rule they work their asses off in high risk operations.”

      I wish people would reply to quotes when saying I am wrong. To what are you referring? I see nothing remotely implying that they don’t “work their asses off.”

  6. I remember the Minuteman movement last decade that attempted to bolster our border patrol. The press ridiculed it endlessly. Around the same time, some Federal prosecutor prosecuted two border patrol agents that GWB eventually pardoned. About the same time, as you wrote, GWB deployed the national guard. There is much reason to believe the MInutemen caused GWB to deploy the National Guard as a face-saving measure.

    I am at a loss for what to do. Since, as you say, Larry, both the Repubs and Dems and the Deep State want open borders, the American people have no representation – only taxation. Sheriff Joe Arapaio had a reasonable local response to this madness. We could also go after employers who hire them.

    I increasingly think the American people need some sort of civil rights movement to represent us. Americans are now essentially only one people in the USA and our elite do not see any future for us. However, we should also look in the mirror. Too many Americans are hiring Latin Americans and buying their drugs. Americans are prone to expediency and many are now prone to laziness in states where Latin American labor is readily available.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “the American people have no representation – only taxation.”

      Absurdly false. There are elections every two years.

      “I increasingly think the American people need some sort of civil rights movement to represent us.”

      If we are too lazy to work the machinery the Founders bequeathed us, why do you believe we have the will and energy to form a “movement”?

  7. We have elections every two years but an unelected bureaucracy that does what it wants and can’t be fired. Most congressional and senate elections are in districts so gerrymandered that they are never at risk. A congressman has a better chance of dying in office than being voted out. Meanwhile, Democrats line up felons, motor-voters, and illegal immigrants for presidential elections. More and more I think going to the polls and voting just provides the Deep State the legitimacy it wants to keep functioning under the guise of democracy.

    Your last question is spot on, though. If we’re too lazy to work the machinery our Founders bequeathed us, why should I expect energy towards some other movement. Usually, I’m the only guy in the room saying the difficult things that need to be said, even amongst “conservatives.” The rest just stare at their shoes and go back to their smart phones.

    Like you said, it’s very similar to the end of the Roman republic. Decadent civilizations often die rather than reform.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “an unelected bureaucracy that does what it wants ”

      That’s quite false. Not even remotely true.

  8. So much of what Trump does is about visuals and psychology.
    Most marketing campaigns would appear irrational to someone who doesn’t realize they’re looking at a marketing campaign.
    For example, no rational person would believe a ‘Great Wall’ was a reasonable or cost-effective solution to the complex immigration problems of the 21st century. But people aren’t rational, and a wall is an extremely powerful metaphor that resonates perfectly with the mindset of much of Trump’s voting base.
    This is no different.
    It’s all for the headline. No more, no less.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “no rational person would believe a ‘Great Wall’ was a reasonable or cost-effective solution to the complex immigration”

      Walls have been a useful component of a border defense strategy for thousands of years. Israel today successfully uses walls on its borders, as the great military historian Martin van Creveld recommended long ago.

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