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When the Trump Administration Discussed Sending Troops to the Border

In the world of the 24-hour news cycle, when each major story commands the headlines for a couple hours only to be displaced by the next big thing, it’s easy to miss something important.

So, in case you missed it this week, here’s something: In the early days of the pandemic, The New York Times reported on Tuesday, Trump’s sinister immigration policy adviser Stephen Miller proposed sending a quarter of a million troops to the US-Mexico border to completely seal it off from would-be migrants. It would have been by far the largest domestic deployment of the military since the Civil War and would have done unfathomable damage to what remained of the country’s democratic fabric. It would also have turned large swaths of the American West into armed camps, on par with the regimented border regions of the decaying Roman Empire sixteen and seventeen hundred years ago, or, more recently, with the fortress Europe created by the Nazis during World War II. California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas would have suddenly found themselves hosting tens of thousands of soldiers with marching orders not against foreign armed forces but against destitute asylum-seekers and those in the United States with heart enough to help them.

Trump’s Justice Department had already begun prosecuting activists out West for aiding and abetting undocumented immigrants. In 2018, for example, Arizona-based Scott Warren, who was a member of a group called No Más Muertes, was charged with providing would-be-migrants with food, water, a bed for the night, and clean clothes on their journey north. Had a jury not been deadlocked in his trial the following year, he could have faced 20 years in prison. Other activists were convicted on lesser charges, such as entering wildlife refuges—which many migrants cross—without a permit.

In any event, the Pentagon and national security advisers nixed Miller’s extraordinary recommendation to deploy half the army’s active-duty soldiers on American soil, and Trump—who had mused about using heat rays, alligator-filled moats, sharp-shooters, and bayonets against those who crossed the border without papers—reluctantly moved onto other ways of tormenting impoverished, desperate would-be asylees. By late March of last year, Miller had convinced the CDC to activate Title 42 of the Public Health Service Act of 1944. Nineteen months on, the emergency provisions are still being used to throw huge numbers of people back into Mexico without due process.

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