- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2018

President Trump signed an order Wednesday deploying National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to boost security while he pressures Congress to deliver more resources to build his wall, hire more Border Patrol agents and make it easier to deport new illegal immigrants.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said it’s too early to know how many troops will be sent, what their exact role will be or how much it will cost, but she suggested it would likely be along the lines of deployments by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who sent the National Guard to assist in intelligence-gathering, construction and surveillance.

The move came just as the government announced the latest numbers showing illegal immigration leaped 200 percent in March compared with a year earlier. It is the largest increase in records dating back to 2011, and it suggests illegal immigration is quickly rising back to the heights of the Obama administration.

Ms. Nielsen said National Guard troops could be on the border immediately, though exact timing would depend on when the White House could strike agreements with governors.

Perhaps just as big was the White House announcement that Mr. Trump will pursue a new immigration debate on Capitol Hill. Unlike the February debate, which centered on legalizing illegal immigrants, this one will focus on stiffening enforcement by attempting to close loopholes that smugglers and illegal immigrants have seized on to “game” the system.

“Our current border security and immigration laws fail the American people,” Ms. Nielsen said. “The system rewards bad behavior. It does not punish lawbreakers.”

While Mr. Trump’s predecessors used the National Guard on the border, this administration’s decision was met with fiercer resistance.

One immigrant rights activist called the move “simplemente estupida,” while others said Mr. Trump was baited into the move after he saw coverage on Fox News of a caravan of illegal immigrants making its way through Mexico over the past 10 days, heading for the U.S.

“Every member of the military sent to the border should know that they are being sent to satisfy the paranoid delusions of a madman,” said Adrian Reyna, an activist with United We Dream. “Trump watched TV over the weekend, saw images of poor brown immigrants striving for a better life and freaked out.”

The president this week said the caravan exposed massive holes in American border security and demanded that Mexico take steps to make sure the travelers — numbering as many as 1,500 — were stopped before they reached the U.S.

Mexico publicly insisted it wouldn’t be bullied but appeared to bow to the pressure, saying it had deported 400 people associated with the caravan and would offer asylum or humanitarian protections to many of the others to keep them in Mexico.

Ms. Nielsen said Wednesday that the caravan was dissipating.

Those in the caravan — chiefly Hondurans, many of them women and children — had said their goal was to reach the U.S. and either jump the border illegally or show up and demand asylum.

Both options signal holes in American border security, which has been tested in recent years by an increasing number of families and unaccompanied juveniles from Central America making the journey north.

Children get more lenient treatment when they breach the border, and so do some families. That is well-known among smugglers and would-be migrants. Ms. Nielsen said there are even instances of smugglers “borrowing” children and using them so illegal immigrants appear to be a family and get easier treatment when they arrive at the border.

Of more than 75,000 people traveling as families who were nabbed at the border last year, just 2,605 were deported, the White House said.

Migrants have also learned to use “magic words” to get on the asylum track, Mr. Nielsen said, which earns them work permits and admission to the country’s interior, where they wait years for their claims to be decided. Often, they don’t even bother to show up for their asylum hearings and disappear into the shadows with the other 11 million illegal immigrants.

The Trump administration will demand a new immigration debate on Capitol Hill to tackle asylum abuses and to try to speed up deportations for other illegal immigrants.

One key, analysts said, will be expanding detention so those caught are held until their deportation hearings. If they are released, they often disappear — and word gets back to their homes that they have made it, which encourages still more immigration, security analysts said.

Immigrant right advocates vowed to fight the changes, saying the families and children are fleeing horrible conditions back home and deserve asylum in the U.S.

“More than one-third of the southwest border apprehensions in the first five months of fiscal year 2018 were unaccompanied children and parents traveling with minor children — oftentimes seeking out Border Patrol agents to begin the process of requesting asylum,” said Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress.

Activists said illegal crossings along the U.S.-Mexico border are at their lowest level in decades, so there is no need for Mr. Trump’s new focus.

Those numbers were true as of the middle of last year, when Mr. Trump’s tough talk had sparked a major drop in the number of people caught sneaking into the U.S. — a rough measure for the overall flow of people.

But the numbers have surged in recent months.

The Border Patrol nabbed nearly 27,000 illegal immigrants at the southwestern border in February, a 42 percent increase over the same month in 2017, and above the levels in 2015 and 2016. The increase was even bigger in March, with the Border Patrol catching 37,393 illegal immigrants — more than triple the number from 2017. Officers at the ports of entry stopped another 12,915 illegal immigrants last month, which was also triple the rate of the previous year.

The March increase came after the Senate held a widely publicized debate about legalizing millions of illegal immigrants. Analysts at the time predicted that the debate would spark a surge of migration, and the numbers suggest that could be the case.

This will be the fourth time in the past 15 years that National Guard troops have been sent to assist the Border Patrol on either the northern or southern boundaries, with both Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama ordering deployments.

But the National Guard’s role is severely limited.

During the Bush administration deployments, troops were prohibited from carrying their weapons or taking part in enforcement. Border Patrol agents had to be assigned to guard the National Guard in case they encountered illegal immigrants during their duties — something the agents came to call being stuck on “the nanny patrol.”

Agents at the time said having 6,000 Guard troops freed up several hundred agents, allowing them to be reassigned from administrative duties to the field. But they were canceled out by the agents who got assigned to the nanny patrol.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, said Mr. Trump’s plans seem to have been rushed.

“I strongly question whether the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense weighed in on this proposed use of our military or whether, more likely, they were caught completely off guard,” he said.

But Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said the Trump administration had reached out multiple times this week about its plans and that he welcomes the deployment.

“Washington has ignored this issue for too long and help is needed,” he said, promising full cooperation with the administration.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican like Mr. Ducey, also said his state will cooperate.

Texas has had its own National Guard troops deployed to the border for years, and also uses its own state troopers to help assist with border security.

“Today’s action by the Trump administration reinforces Texas’ long-standing commitment to secure our southern border and uphold the rule of law, and I welcome the support,” Mr. Abbott said.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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