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Trump Sends Troops to the Border

Trump is sending up to 4,000 National Guard troops to the border - the U.S.-Mexican border - in an effort to combat, in Trump's own words, the "lawlessness that continues at our southern border."

Are these guards going to be an effective way to enhance border security, or are they just, as many assert, a way to satiate Trump's voter base in the absence of the much promised border wall?

Here's a breakdown of what the National Guard troops will do, and what their significance really is in regards to today's immigration climate in the USA.

Do We Really Need More Border Patrol?

When Trump was first elected, border crossings from Mexico to the US plummeted. The 'Trump effect,' as it became known, intimidated migrants and deterred them from attempting to cross into the US. According to USA Today, the number of people caught trying to illegally cross the southwest border in fiscal year 2017 was 303,916, the lowest since 1971. This effect reached its peak last April, but during the subsequent months the effect faded, and crossings have returned largely to normal levels. Since this time last year, border crossings are up nearly 200% - but only to what was previously considered average levels.

The number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border is also down 36% over the previous year, and the number of family units (parents traveling with minor children) decreased 46% in the same period.

So, although there is an increase in border crossings since Trump first came into office, overall, there are still fewer border crossings than during previous administrations.

Do the People Support it?

While Trump signed the order to increase border patrol efforts, it's up to the individual states to send the troops. Not all are as supportive as he might have hoped.

Of the 4,000 Guard troops authorized, only about 400 have actually hit the border.

Arizona sent 225 members of its National Guard, with the expectation to send another hundred or so in the coming weeks.

80 National Guard troops have come from New Mexico, and Texas has also deployed a small contingent of soldiers, although there has been disagreement on the necessity of the extra guards. The mayor of El Paso, Oscar Leeser, spoke with NPR expressing his contrary view. "The border is the border, and yes, there are challenges, but what we don't need is the National Guard coming in," said Leeser on Morning Edition.

In California, the federal request for troops is still under review.

According to a poll by Politico, however, the American people in general support the extra troops. The poll surveyed 1,994 registered voters, 48 percent of which supported sending troops to the border, versus the 42 percent who opposed dispatching the Guard troops. Nine percent of voters reported no opinion on the matter.

According to Kyle Dropp, Morning Consult’s co-founder and chief research officer, Trump's border order is most popular amongst those who already support him.

"President Trump's decision to deploy National Guard troops is a hugely popular move with his base,” said Dropp. “Sixty percent of Trump voters 'strongly' approve of the decision. Among this same group, 49 percent 'strongly' approve of Trump's job performance overall.”

Looking at the numbers from a partisan point of view makes the split more obvious. Only 22 percent of Democrats support sending troops to the border, compared to 84 percent of Republicans.

So Why is Trump Sending Troops to the Border?

The intention to deploy the National Guard troops is mostly symbolic.

One of Trump's main campaign promises - a border wall - is unlikely to see fruition. In order to retain the support of his voter-base in front of the midterm elections, Trump needs to show that he's increased border security somehow. Getting Congress's approval for his anti-immigration campaigns has proven difficult. However, he doesn’t need lawmakers’ approval for a military operation such as deploying National Guard troops to the border.

The money to deploy the guard will come from the Pentagon’s $700 billion budget, money which Trump is free to allot where he considers it necessary. So, in a way, he's fulfilling his promise to increase border security without going through Congress to do so.

Trump is not the first president to do so, either. Both Presidents Bush and Obama dispatched National Guard troops to the border.

Bush deployed 6,000 National Guard troops from 2006 to 2008 under Operation Jump Start. Obama sent 1,200 National Guards in 2010 during Operation Phalanx. According to CNBC, "the Guard was intended to supplement Border Patrol personnel while new recruits were added to increase border protection capability."

In both cases, the troops were deployed prior to the midterm elections as a way to secure voters in a swing state, according to a Washington Post op-ed.

According to an interview from NPR with Border Patrol Agent Terence Shigg, the three operations under each president are virtually indistinguishable.

"From our standpoint, no, there's not any difference," said Agent Shigg. "The logistics, the way that it's done would be the exact same thing. It's worked in the past, so I don't see a need to actually tweak that system. The only difference now is the crisis is a little bit more of a priority, and it's taken the national stage more. But from the ground-troops level, [nothing has] changed."

Shigg went on to simplify the situation for those who aren't on the border. "I would say that those politicians are doing exactly what their title dictates. They are being politicians."

According to an opinion piece from the Washington Post, sending the National Guard troops to the southern border "has almost nothing to do with securing the border and everything to do with shoring up the Republican Party's political prospects."

Are we Militarizing the Border?

The National Guard troops are not deployed in order to carry out the arrest of migrants or sit as armed patrols on the border. Mostly, these additional troops will undertake maintenance and infrastructure work, operate surveillance systems and provide air support via drones and helicopters. This is meant to free up border patrol agents to carry out immigration-specific tasks with immigrant-hopefuls.

According to Agent Shigg, those who think that we're militarizing the border shouldn't worry. "It's not going to militarize the border because, again, [the National Guard troops] will not be doing law enforcement actions. They will be doing support, resource actions that allow the trained law enforcement officers to do that job."