White House authorizes ‘lethal force’ by troops at border. What does it mean?
Immigration activists, federal officials and reporters fought on Wednesday with explanations of a White House memo permitting “a show or use of force (including lethal force, where necessary)” by the troops positioned on the border with Mexico.
The directive stated the reasons why the force could be used as “crowd control, temporary detention and cursory search.”
Addressing reporters on Wednesday, Secretary of Defense James Mattis tone down the possibility of a serious clash, saying he pictured the use of troops for “minutes” as a first answer to an growing threat. Implementation will remain the responsibility of customs and Border Patrol officers.
The directive, which was first announced by the Military Times, instantly expressed concerns on the role of about 5,900 U.S. troops that were rushed to the southwest border last month to oppose groups of mostly Central American migrants traveling in caravans through Mexico to the United States.
In what seemed like political ploy ahead of the midterm elections to many, President Trump ordered the troops to the border as a show of strength against the migrant caravans, which was weeks away from the U.S. at the time, Trump labelled the refugees as an “invasion” and an impending national security threat.
Jonathan Ryan said “The fear-mongering tactic of sending soldiers to the border for a danger that doesn’t exist is now being extended to stoking tensions with threats of lethal force,”
The executive director of the Texas-based nonprofit Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, or RAICES continued that “This is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, and for what? To rally a base based on racist and xenophobic lies? And to deny people their legal right to asylum?”
The Director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, Hina Shamsi, described the latest memo as “an unnecessary escalation of a political stunt that risks harm to civilians and legal jeopardy for the military.”
Shamsi stated that “In addition to serious concerns about violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, it’s hard to see how John Kelly, a civilian White House official, has the authority to issue any such order,” She said, had been sent not by President Trump but by White House chief of staff John Kelly.
However, On Wednesday afternoon, Newsweek reported that the order issued by Kelly was preceded by a “decision memorandum” signed by the president.
But, worries remain about possible violations of the Posse Comitatus Act, the 1878 federal law barring active-duty military forces from involving themselves in civilian law enforcement in the United States.
Spokesperson to the Department of Homeland Security refused to comment on how the new authorities outlined in the memo would effect present operations at the border, where troops have mostly been playing a supportive role, laying concertina wire and helping install additional barricades and fencing near ports of entry.
A spokesperson for the Department of Defense could not be reached for comment.
A retired Marine colonel and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bipartisan Washington think tank, Mark Cancian, opined that the memo approves the troops to be involved in such activities at the command of the secretary of defense.
Cancian said “The important thing is to watch and see whether any of these authorities are actually given to the troops, adding that Mattis has “not done that, and I doubt if he will.”
He also took note of the language of the memo planned to identify the limitations forced by the Posse Comitatus Act, specifically a line that asserts that the U.S. troops “shall not, without further direction from the President, conduct traditional civilian law enforcement activities, such as arrest, search, and seizure.”
Cancian continued that “You can feel the nervousness in this memo,” contemplating that that the warning might show White House worries about the possibility of a confrontation, considering reports that the migrants, many living in tents or on the streets while waiting to be processed by U.S. immigration officials, have collided with residents in and around Tijuana.
Cancian admiited, however, that there’s no clear difference between the traditional law enforcement duties prohibited under the Posse Comitatus Act and the kinds of tasks approved in the memo, along with detention and crowd control.
Cancian said “The problem for the troops is you’re going to have people at very low levels trying to parse these new rules in real time, which is going to be hard for them,” Soldiers aren’t trained in the legal rights of civilians or in limiting the use of deadly force. If these authorities are implemented, he predicted, there will likely be “some instances that people regard as abusive because the line isn’t clear.”
He stressed that while the memo may set off alarm bells for some, he is consoled by what he views as Mattis’s simple interpretation. Mattis said to reporters on Wednesday, of the limited detention authority granted in the memo, “I would put it in terms of minutes. In other words, if someone’s beating on a border patrolman and if we were in a position to have to do something about it, we could stop them from beating on them and take them over and deliver them to a border patrolman who would then arrest them for it.”
He sustained “In their minds, this is for a worst-case scenario,”, describing a hypothetical situation of migrants breaking through a section of border fence and rushing across en masse, overpowering Border Patrol agents.
He said “Short of that, I can’t imagine any reason to do this,” adding to the fact that there is “no evidence that any of these people are armed.”
Casian said “If they dribble across the border, that’s what Border Patrol is for, “They can handle that.”