President Donald Trump is clearly worried by the few thousand migrants slowly winding their way toward our southern border, calling it a “National Emergency.” Lucky for him, even if these people try to slip illegally across the border rather than claim asylum at a border checkpoint, the Border Patrol he ‘loves’ routinely handles an even higher number of people in an average week. So why are 5,000 members of our military headed to the Southwest to intercept a ‘caravan’ primarily made up of women, children, and the elderly?

Midterm elections are the likeliest and most disappointing reason. After all, there’s a glaring excessiveness behind any military operation surrounding the peaceful border of a nation we haven’t fought in 170 years. But if the administration’s intent is substantive rather than political, it should reverse course before it undermines both our military and the border operations it seeks to help.

Bringing out the military” may sound flashy and dramatic but the reality of such a deployment is actually pretty mundane. When Defense Secretary James Mattis detailed National Guard members to the border last spring, he stated that they would “not perform law enforcement activities or interact with migrants or other persons detained by [Department of Homeland Security] personnel.” The new service members being sent to the border will be relegated to the same kind of support role as the National Guard, likely focusing on surveillance, air support and infrastructure improvement.

Of course, keeping the military removed from direct enforcement activities doesn’t mean law enforcement at the border will be unaffected—quite the contrary. The whole point of these maneuvers is to add a military countenance to border enforcement. Just look at DHS’ official statement for the last Trump-ordered deployment, which lauded the deterrent value of the deployment over its operational value.

But border enforcement militarization is cause for concern, not celebration. Just as the appearance of military hardware on city streets shifted the culture within police departments and created a policing problem, the arrival of military personnel and resources at the border could change the culture of our Border Patrol and undermine its effectiveness.

Similar to that of a police officer, the role of a Border Patrol agent requires a softer touch and interpersonal skills that are often underappreciated by the public and are sometimes underdeveloped by Border Patrol agents. Many of the individuals crossing the border, especially women and children, may be mentally and physically battered from a long and taxing journey. In these situations, a Border Patrol agent will find a water bottle more useful than a pair of handcuffs, and first-aid application more likely than a foot chase.

Adopting the mannerisms or tactics of our soldiers—whose creed states, “I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat”—will only hamper Border Patrol agents’ ability to respond appropriately. Even in more dangerous encounters, such as those with drug traffickers, the mission remains the apprehension of criminals and disruption of criminal behavior, not the destruction of “enemies.”

The deployment also comes at a real cost to our military. It remains unclear exactly where the money for this deployment will come from, which means that it potentially endangers the funding for other military projects and capabilities. Even if funding derives from outside the military’s operational budget, deployment exacts a toll on service members who are ripped away from their homes, families, and in the case of National Guard members, civilian jobs.

Just as the call for a border wall has distracted from other, more effective barriers and equipment, the publicity and cost of the border deployment may impair long-term investments at the border. The Border Patrol has struggled for years to hire enough agents. Rather than utilizing military personnel on a short-term and limited basis, we should work to reduce unnecessary hiring barriers and incentivize the recruitment of qualified Border Patrol agents. To the extent that the Border Patrol lacks certain equipment or other capabilities, we should provide them with these resources directly rather than forcing them to borrow from our military.

It’s probably impossible at this point to separate politics from border security, but it’s not too late to remove our military from the equation. If border security is actually about more than theatrics and political campaigning to Trump, he should call off the military and devote our federal resources to the men and women for whom border security is a full-time job.

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