Schatz, Senators Slam Trump Administration For Unprecedented Use Of Troops On Southern Border


WASHINGTON Today 13 senators, including U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), sharply criticized the Trump administration’s newly-extended deployment of active duty troops to the southern U.S. border, arguing that the deployment, which began in November 2018, was politically-motivated from the outset and based on allegations of threats not supported by facts.

In the letter addressed to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, the senators demanded a rationale for the latest deployment extension, writing: “With each iteration, extension, and expansion of this mission, less and less attention is drawn to the egregious misuse of our troops and their commitment to duty. We refuse to allow the military to quietly and without reason become a law enforcement tool leveraged for political reasons and in violation of bedrock principles that separate military and law enforcement functions.”

The senators also pointed out that the mission expansion, which now includes law enforcement tasks such as border surveillance, is a potential violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, and the deployment – now in its fourth month—will have a negative effect on overall active duty readiness.  

“Troops will not have access to their standard training environment; they will be away from their families and they will be unable to deploy rapidly to other locations around the world in the event of a crisis,” the senators wrote. “The operational tempo of the active duty force remains high and adding to the deployment schedule without justification is dangerous.”

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Acting Secretary Shanahan:

Today, U.S. active duty military forces begin an eight-month extension of their unprecedented three-month deployment to the U.S. southern border with no valid justification to Congress or the American people. We have no reason to believe this deployment is anything but a grave misuse of our military that will only further militarize the border, blur law enforcement and military missions, and degrade overall military readiness. As such, on behalf of the American people, we demand answers about the rationale for this deployment.

On Monday, January 15, 2019, the Department of Defense announced that the deployment of active duty troops to the U.S. southern border will be extended through September 30, 2019, in response to a request from the Department of Homeland Security. On Tuesday, January 29, 2019, during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the border deployment, Department of Defense officials confirmed that the extension of the order would be filled by active duty forces. Later that day, you told reporters that at least 2,000 active duty servicemembers would be sent to the border to fulfill the request, possibly in addition to the approximately 2,400 currently deployed. This is unacceptable.

First, this deployment was extended without justification or evidence of a threat that would require additional active duty forces for eight months. The deployment of troops to the border in November 2018 was based on misrepresented information and threats that did not materialize. Undocumented border crossing apprehensions are at a two-decade low. Neither the Department of Homeland Security nor Defense has provided a transparent account of the conditions on the ground, the expected threat at present and in the near future, or any assessment that would justify a further eight-month deployment or need for additional active duty forces. Furthermore, the Department has yet to clarify exactly how many active duty forces will be deployed for the extended time period. If the threat is as immediate as the deployment of active duty forces would suggest, the Defense Department’s failure to share with Congress the deployment timetable and concept of operations is worrisome. Despite repeated requests for this information, the Department has failed to provide details about the extended deployment, and the answers given during the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the matter were demonstrably insufficient. We ask you to immediately provide this information – timetable, troop numbers and specific units, mission set, and metrics of success – to the signatories below.

Second, the mission for active duty military personnel has expanded to include some law enforcement tasks. According to a Department of Defense press release, the Department of Homeland Security’s request for the eight-month extension of active duty troops includes a shift in their mission and tasks from hardening ports of entry and laying concertina wires in the vicinity of ports of entry to “mobile surveillance and detection as well as concertina wire emplacement between ports of entry.” This mission change means that active duty military personnel will conduct surveillance operations previously conducted by Customs and Border Protection agents. This is a potential violation of the Posse Comitatus Act and is surely a misuse of our military. The mission of the active duty military is to fight and win our nation’s wars, not serve as political props for the President. And again, Department of Defense officials, as seen in the House Armed Services Committee hearing, are unable to provide a clear mission statement beyond laying concertina wire and supporting Customs and Border Protection requests or explain why active duty forces are required for these tasks.

Finally, this decision will have a negative effect on the readiness of the active duty force. There has been little to no open discussion by the Department of Defense on the effects this extended deployment will have on overall active duty readiness. The deployment could potentially draw units from across the country without any allocated funding. The estimated cost of active duty forces deployed thus far on the border is already $132 million. Troops will not have access to their standard training environment; they will be away from their families, and they will be unable to deploy rapidly to other locations around the world in the event of a crisis. The operational tempo of the active duty force remains high and adding to the deployment schedule without justification is dangerous.

Many of us have written previously on this subject to Secretary Mattis before he resigned and have received either no answer or an unsatisfactory response. With each iteration, extension, and expansion of this mission, less and less attention is drawn to the egregious misuse of our troops and their commitment to duty. We refuse to allow the military to quietly and without reason become a law enforcement tool leveraged for political reasons and in violation of bedrock principles that separate military and law enforcement functions.

Thank you for your attention to this issue. We request a response no later than February 15 providing justification for this extension of deployment, expansion of mission, and consideration to readiness.

Sincerely, 

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