The migrant caravan moving from Central America through Mexico and toward the U.S. border has thus far failed to heed President Donald Trump’s tweeted demand to turn around, and now the administration is considering closing the southern border to migrants.
To those in the Caravan, turnaround, we are not letting people into the United States illegally. Go back to your Country and if you want, apply for citizenship like millions of others are doing!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 25, 2018
The proposal, which hasn’t yet been finalized, was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. According to the Chronicle, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice would limit “immigrants’ ability to seek asylum if they are part of a population barred by the president.” The president could then issue a proclamation targeting Central Americans, who make up the majority of the migrant caravan.
Details of the plan are still being worked out, but on Friday, Defense Secretary James Mattis approved a request to send additional U.S. troops to the southern border. Previous reports said that it would be about 800 troops, though that number has not yet been confirmed.
According to CNN, it’s unclear what the troops will be doing there, as the U.S. border is already protected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection as well as 2,100 members of the National Guard. The thousands of migrants heading towards the U.S. border do not constitute a military threat (presumably, if they did, Mexican officials would not allow them to march through their country).
The 7,000 or so people in the caravan — mostly from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — say they wish to apply for asylum in the United States, a process that is legal under both international and U.S. law. Their applications might be rejected, but they have the right to try.
While it’s expected that the numbers would thin substantially by the time the caravan reaches the U.S. border (around 500 have already sough repatriation, and over 1,000 have already applied for asylum in Mexico) President Trump wants to prevent any of the migrants from applying for asylum here.
Worried that the migrant might get driver’s licenses and cars — he’s floated the idea that they might demand Rolls-Royces — President Trump has turned the caravan into a key point at his rallies in the lead-up to the midterm elections.
He has mentioned closing the border to protect the United States from the migrants he views as an “assault on the country.” It’s unclear how he plans to seal a 2,000-mile border — from Texas to California — without the cooperation of Mexico, which is unlikely to help in the effort.
He has the authority to block anything from entering the United States by road, but parts of the border weave through residential areas.
Any disruptions at the border are also likely to hurt the brisk free trade in the country, which, provided lawmakers in Canada, the United States, and Mexico approve the measure, will continue under the new USMCA free trade agreement, governing $1.2 trillion in trade.
Also, blocking the legal process of applying for asylum is likely to encourage irregular entries, through deserts and rivers, by those desperate not to return to the violence and poverty of their home countries.
When another caravan was making its way to the U.S. border in April, President Trump called for between 2,000 to 4,000 National Guard troops to be sent to the border.
It’s unclear how much this has cost taxpayers so far, but similar moves by presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama proved costly. Bush’s 2-year deployment (authorized up to 6,000) of the guards cost about $1.2 billion, working out to be about $100,000 per troop per year, Newsweek reported. Obama’s smaller deployment of 1,200 guards ran around $110 million. That number was eventually cut to 300.
Both those operations had mixed results.
Now that the Trump administration may deny people from applying for asylum, a legal means of migration, this leaves room for only one option for those who are determined to make a life for themselves in the United States: Entry via other means.
Border crossings have not stopped, even after the president sent the National Guard to the border and began implementing his family separation policy.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed last week that migrants were coming to the U.S. border at “record number[s]” in 2018, although according to Politico, “Border Patrol arrested roughly 397,000 migrants in fiscal year 2018, a figure far lower than the arrest levels in the 1990s and early 2000s, when arrests frequently exceeded one million.”