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Illegal immigration into the United States is surging yet again. In response, the Trump Administration in April enacted a controversial “zero-tolerance” policy to prosecute anyone caught crossing the border unlawfully. As a result, a few thousand children—some quite young—were separated from their parents, many of whom were requesting asylum. Last week, President Trump amended his decision with an executive order letting the children of asylum-seekers remain with their parents.
Yet the crisis continues unabated.
Almost immediately following the president’s executive order, the Department of Defense announced it would house upward of 20,000 “unaccompanied minors” in makeshift tent cities on military bases throughout the southwestern United States. Defense officials are meeting with contractors for what looks to be a very expensive temporary housing project. The Pentagon last week confirmed that the Department of Homeland Security would reimburse the military for the cost of housing illegal aliens.
Still, this is a striking move by the Defense Department.
The 1997 Flores v. Reno decision (and the provisions added in subsequent litigation) outlines how the government is supposed to treat illegal aliens in its custody. Under the Flores consent decree, only facilities with proper federal licenses can house illegal immigrants. As anyone who has ever needed a license from the government knows, the process can be slow and arduous. It is doubly so for facilities seeking approval to house thousands of illegal immigrants—many of them children. It is unlikely that any of the makeshift facilities the Pentagon plans to build would be up to standard.
But what’s truly remarkable about the Pentagon’s effort to house illegal aliens on its bases is how the military has just assumed this bizarre role in the nation’s border security. For decades, immigration activists and lawmakers from both parties have argued that the armed services should play no role in our immigration policy—no troops on the border, no warplanes patrolling the skies. This strange view about the Pentagon’s non-role in border security is so pervasive that the Republicans had to sneak in a rule in the last ridiculous government spending bill that tricked the Pentagon into using some of its massive budget to pay for border defense.
Why is it acceptable for the Pentagon to bring its $700 billion annual budget to assist in the housing of illegal immigrants, rather than just to defend the country by allocating resources to both build a border wall and to send forces to the border?
By housing the illegal immigrants, the Pentagon is declaring that the military does, in fact, have a role to play in border security. If these resources can be spent in this inefficient and sentimental way, there is no reason defense resources couldn’t be used to build that “big, beautiful wall.”
The moment the Pentagon announced it would use military bases for the construction of unlicensed illegal immigration facilities, Trump should have ordered Defense Secretary James Mattis to begin building a wall. Congress clearly won’t do it and, without funding from the Pentagon, the wall will never move beyond the development hell it in which it’s been mired for years. There would be no more sound measure President Trump could take both to secure our border and to prevent a humanitarian crisis from fomenting on there.
And, as long as the wall remains unbuilt—and those securing our border remain understaffed and lacking reinforcements—no amount of catching-and-releasing in the world will stem the tide of illegal immigration.
The Pentagon should build the wall—now.
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Photo credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images