Legal Barriers Will Hobble Role of Border Troop Buildup

The troop buildup at the U.S.-Mexico border is meant more for political show and logistical report than for law enforcement purposes, say critics who cite longstanding limits on the military’s domestic role.

The 5,200 additional troops that President Trump has ordered to “harden” the U.S.-Mexico border won’t be able to participate in detaining or deporting any of the migrants because U.S.’s “posse comitatus” law forbids them from physically detaining individuals at the border, Vox reports. While the troops at the border will be armed, they will only legally be able to provide backup logistical support to U.S. border officials, including helping transport border agents and providing emergency medical care to those who need it. The armed forces can also work to reinforce infrastructure around the border, like putting additional razor wire on border fences.

Senior officials from the Pentagon and the Customs and Border Protection told reporters on Monday that 800 service members are already headed to Texas, with the remaining 4,400 arriving over the coming days in response to the president’s claims, without evidence, that a caravan of Central American refugees includes criminals and terrorists. Kelly Magsamen, who served on the National Security Council and in the Pentagon during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, told Politico, “It’s a craven misuse of the U.S. armed forces for an obvious political stunt, and I’m surprised [Defense] Secretary Mattis agreed to it, given the range of real national security threats our military has to deal with.”