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Est. April 5, 2002
April 05, 2018 - Issue 736

Distasteful and Dangerous:
Trump's Intention to Use U.S. Military
Along the U.S. Mexico Frontier


"He does not seem to know (as he is ignorant of so many things)
that the immigration into the U.S. peaked about a decade ago.
But, as in so many 'decisions' of this president, the decision
seems to have been made on the spur of the moment, without
consultation with anyone who has an iota of knowledge of walls
or immigration or foreign policy. So, he just plunges ahead,
taking his lead from his favorite news source, Fox News."

The bluster of the president about the use of the U.S. Military along the U.S.-Mexico frontier may be allowed because of precedent in recent decades, but it flies in the face of the intent of the founders, as they crafted the U.S. Constitution two hundred-plus years ago.

In recent years, Congress has given the president power to send troops pretty much anywhere in the world “to protect Americans and U.S. Interests,” whatever they may be. The president has been given powers that rightly belong to the Congress in these matters. But the authority still stands.

But now, Donald Trump has declared that he will use the U.S. Military to patrol and protect the line between Mexico and the U.S. and that becomes another matter. The founders were very skeptical about using troops for law enforcement, anywhere inside the boundaries of the nation. Marine Major Lawrence P. Stawicki, in a paper titled, The United States Military and Domestic Peacekeeping, in 1995, according to, wrote, “There are some in the United States who argue that

there is no authority under Title lO of the United States Code (U.S.C.) to use the military to quell civil disorder except under circumstances equivalent to war. Others argue that the military mission is to help civil authorities protect life and property, preserve social values, and maintain the tradition of individual liberty together with social order.”

Stawicki said that the use of military units to enforce civil law is “distasteful and dangerous,” but added that it was preferable to “lawlessness and anarchy.” Sentiment remained strong, he wrote, “that maintaining a standing army in peacetime would be dangerous to the liberties of the people. To appease the localists, many writers of the Constitution published articles explaining that the Army was merely to be used to suppress rebellions and dangerous insurrections. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison used their Federalist Papers to express their views.”

No one, so far, has declared that the “caravans” (Trump's word) of immigrants are coming through Mexico to the U.S. border states are “circumstances equivalent to war.” (That is, if the leaders of the “caravan” even intended to reach the U.S.) There have been news reports that the “caravans” are in Mexico, with migrants from states to the south of Mexico and that Mexico is taking steps to halt the groups. That makes no difference to Trump, who will claim that anything that does not concur with his assertions are “fake news.” To hear him tell it, you'd think that they are right on the other side of the Rio Grande River and are about to pounce on American soil.

Trump's impulse to call out the Marines and the Army and the Air Force is that neither the American people, nor many politicians want to build and pay for Trump's Wall, which by some estimates could cost some $30 billion. It doesn't matter that other administrations have used the military for similar purposes. And, there are few observers of the history of walls who believe that such a wall (he calls such a monstrosity “a beautiful wall”) would stop very many bent on crossing it.

He does not seem to know (as he is ignorant of so many things) that the immigration into the U.S. peaked about a decade ago. But, as in so many “decisions” of this president, the decision seems to have been made on the spur of the moment, without consultation with anyone who has an iota of knowledge of walls or immigration or foreign policy. So, he just plunges ahead, taking his lead from his favorite news source, Fox News.

The Constitution gave Congress the power to “suppress insurrection, and repel invasion.” It remains to be seen whether the crossing of a border line constitutes an “insurrection” or an “invasion” that must be repelled. Does it take an army to keep people from seeking refuge and asylum, or seek a better life for themselves and their families? These are unarmed people, who are leaving their home countries because they need to put food on their families' tables and keep a roof over their heads. Most people in this country would do no less for their families.

The usual response from the political right in the U.S. is that they should straighten out their own circumstances and their own governments and they would not have to migrate north. Naturally, this ignores more than two centuries of interference in their governments by the U.S., mostly to secure the abundance of natural resources of those nations, not to benefit the people there, but to benefit Americans and, more importantly, American corporations. No one should forget the power of the United Fruit Company in Central America and no one should forget that there are innumerable other examples of corporate and U.S. government intrusions over the past 200-plus years. While that may not explain all of the troubles of the people of the Western Hemisphere, it explains most of them. The history is out there for all to see. For starters, one could read “Open Veins of Latin America,” by the late Eduardo Galeano.

While there have been few voices to challenge Trump in using the military to perform what is essentially a law enforcement function, the idea is out there and, as erratic as the president is in most matters, there are probably those who believe that he will change his mind in a short while, surprising his cabinet and the American people. It would be more of a surprise if he made a decision and stuck with it.

Over the past several decades, American administrations have moved at varying paces toward the militarization of the police and this threat by Trump is a more blatant move to make the military a law enforcement entity. What is not considered is the cost of such an operation of a military solution to combat the continually diminishing flow of migrants into the U.S. (as if Trump ever considers the cost of anything). The logistics of placing troops, say, 100 yards apart for several thousands of miles along the frontier is monumental, to say the least. Just providing food and shelter for those many thousands of troops would be extremely costly, and may outstrip the cost of Trump's “beautiful,” ridiculous and wasteful border wall. It will likely outstrip the cost of Trump's military parade, which he seems to be getting, again at a cost of some $25 million-$50 million.

For Trump, however, the social and political cost of militarizing the police and turning the military into a law enforcement arm are nothing to be considered. We have seen the “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude result in deaths in great number and the impunity with which black Americans are dealt so harshly is an atrocity, bordering on what even the international community could consider to be an ongoing human rights violation. It's a slippery slope that Trump is riding at this time and the people are the ones who pay the price for his ignorance and inexperience in things governmental. We are waiting for the day when Trump can stand before the people (through the news media he is trying to destroy) and explain himself on any issue. A good starter would be the abuse of the military's role in law enforcement, when it clearly does not involve an “invasion” or an “insurrection.” Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.




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David A. Love, JD
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