U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel walk along a section of the recently-constructed fence at the U.S.-Mexico border on Feb. 26, 2013 in Nogales, Ariz.
Photo by John Moore/Getty

Trump’s latest pre-election stunt: deploying troops to the border

Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, the commander with the U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, announced “Operation Faithful Patriot” yesterday.

The Pentagon announced Monday it will deploy 5,200 additional troops to the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of the week to stop thousands of migrants and refugees in a caravan from entering the country. […]

The troops will be a mix of active duty, reserve and National Guard forces and will support thousands of border patrol agents already deployed to the area. There also are already more than 2,000 troops at the border.

It apparently doesn’t matter that the migrant caravan is several hundred miles away, and by most accounts, shrinking. It’s equally unimportant, evidently, that the number of U.S. personnel at the border will now easily outnumber the projected number of migrants.

What matters to Donald Trump is that the midterm elections are a week away and this is what the president wants the public to see. At his next campaign rally, we’ll likely see the Commander in Chief thumping his chest about combating an “invasion” by deploying U.S. troops.

What he probably won’t mention is what they’ll be doing once they arrive at the border. “The problem for Trump, though, is that the military won’t actually be able to participate in detaining or deporting any of the migrants the way the president likely wants,” Vox explained late yesterday. “That’s because US law forbids them from physically detaining individuals at the border.

“So while the troops at the border will be armed, they will only legally be able to assist US border officials by doing things like helping transport border agents and providing emergency medical care to those who need it.”

Some of you may be experiencing deja vu right about now. That’s because, six months ago, the president declared, “Until we can have a wall and proper security, we are going to be guarding our border with the military.”

As regular readers may recall, the White House struggled at the time to fully explain the point of the policy. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tried to defend the deployments, but it didn’t go especially well. A CNN report added that it “remains unclear” what the troops would do.

It wasn’t long before the head of the national Border Patrol union – a pro-Trump organization – described the troop deployment as “a colossal waste of resources.”

The new policy isn’t identical, but the underlying ambiguities about the point of the initiative is awfully similar.