MISSION, RGV – Elected officials from up and down the Texas-Mexico border say they have concerns with President Trump’s plans to further militarize their region by sending in the National Guard.
Trump spoke about his plans Tuesday during a luncheon with leaders of the Baltic States and then repeated them at a press conference afterward. He argued that deploying the National Guard is necessary until the Border Wall is built.
Trump also called for a renewed push for immigration restrictions that would make it more difficult to apply for protection in the United States.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, a member of the House Appropriations Committee and Subcommittee on Homeland Security and Defense, took issue with the president’s plans.
“Militarizing the border is a dramatic measure and will affect the lives of millions of people who live, work, and worship, in local communities on an everyday basis,” Cuellar said.
“Securing the southern border starts with ensuring that we implement policies that will have long-term, significant outcomes on the area in a safe and reliable way. It seems that the administration’s ‘solutions’ to increased border security have been reactive and unsuitable to the issues at hand.
“What the President fails to understand is that deploying troops to secure a border and constructing a 14th century concrete wall, are outdated and inadequate answers to protecting our nation’s borders.”
Cuellar said he has had discussed “proper solutions” with President Trump at the White House.
“I’ve encouraged him to focus on providing resources to equip our agents by updating technologies, employing additional border security personnel and increasing immigration judges,” Cuellar said.
“Instead of deploying armed troops to neighborhoods along the border, I encourage the administration to look at the ideas that I have personally presented, alongside other members of Congress, to find a solution and achieve a common goal, instead of utilizing our troops who should be called upon to protect us from grave security risks.”
State Sen. José Rodríguez of El Paso, issued this statement on Trump’s proposal to militarize the southern border:
“The President and other Republicans have manipulated the fears of Americans, many of whom know very little about life in on the border, into a potent political weapon. In his latest anti-immigrant action, Mr. Trump proposes to use the U.S. military as actors and the border as a stage to create electoral theatre in hopes of appeasing his political base. Mr. Trump is responding to a caravan of women, children, and elderly seeking refuge from violence in Central America that is working through Mexico to raise awareness of their plight. This is morally reprehensible.
“We are not Russia or any other totalitarian country that uses our military domestically, against our own residents. By assigning the military to enforce domestic civil laws on immigration — something not previously done — he is sending a message to the world that America is no longer a beacon of hope to those in need or even a free society.
“Border communities do not want the military patrolling their backyards; no American community does. In May 1997, Ezequiel Hernandez, an 18-year-old high school student, was tracked by soldiers for 20 minutes before being shot and killed while tending his family’s goats in Redford, Texas. That tragedy occurred in my district, Texas Senate District 29, which has about 350 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The border has been secured; in fact, apprehensions on the border are at their lowest since 1971. Meanwhile, the movement of millions of residents and billions of dollars in commerce is clogged at understaffed ports of entry. That is where our focus and investment should be — not on using the military as puppets for election year antics.”
Speaking to reporters during a news conference with the presidents of three Baltic nations, President Trump described existing immigration laws as lax and ineffective, and called for militarizing the border with Mexico to prevent an influx of Central American migrants he said were ready to stream across it, the New York Times reports.
“We have horrible, horrible and very unsafe laws in the United States,” Mr. Trump said. “We are preparing for the military to secure our border between Mexico and the United States.”
In its story of the president’s remarks, the New York Times points out that “while the president couched his idea as an urgent response to an onslaught at the nation’s southern border, the numbers do not point to a crisis.”
Last year, the number of illegal immigrants caught at the border was the lowest since 1971, said the United States Border Patrol.
“Still, Mr. Trump seized on what has become an annual seasonal uptick in Central American migrants making their way north to make his case,” the newspaper reported.
After the president’s remarks, White House aides struggled for hours to decipher his intentions, the New York Times stated.
Late in the day, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said the president had met with Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense, and members of the national security team to discuss his administration’s strategy for dealing with “the growing influx of illegal immigration, drugs and violent gang members from Central America,” a problem on which she said the president had initially been briefed last week.
“That strategy, she said, included mobilizing the National Guard — though Ms. Sanders did not say how many troops would be sent or when — and pressing Congress to close what she called “loopholes” in immigration laws. Also present at the meeting were Jeff Sessions, the attorney general; Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security; Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff,” the New York Times reported.
Astrid Dominguez, director for the ACLU Border Rights Center, argued that plans to militarize the border region was unnecessary.
“Sending our military to the border would be irresponsible and contrary to the armed forces’ constitutional role. It is also unnecessary because there is no border security crisis despite television alarmism about migrants fleeing repression,” Dominguez said.
“Our border region has been highly militarized in the last decade, and 15 million border residents have been negatively impacted by Trump’s deportation force and his cruel enforcement policies carried out by more than 16,000 Border Patrol agents.
“Border crossings are at a historic low and the Department of Homeland Security has stated that the border has never been harder to cross undetected. Our border communities deserve to be respected and not exploited for political points or for a harmful, pointless wall.”
Amnesty International USA perspective
Marselha Gonçalves Margerin, advocacy director for the Americas at Amnesty International USA, issued the following statement:
“Over the last few days, President Trump has openly dismissed the desperate situation of people fleeing violence and persecution who only want to find a safe place for themselves and their families. These proposed measures could put the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people in grave danger. Turning our backs on desperate families does not make anybody safer.”
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, added:
“Many of those seeking entry into the United States are fleeing horrific violence and death threats in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
“Instead of recklessly trying to block their pathway to safety, the Trump administration has an obligation to protect all those seeking refuge and to respect their right to claim asylum. To deny them that right would be a serious violation of both US and international law.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows three Tennessee Army National Guard soldiers at the U.S. Border Patrol’s Sasabe District in Arizona. The photo, courtesy of the National Guard, was taken on Friday, Jan. 19, 2007.