Unlike President Donald Trump, troops don’t seem to view either immigration across our southern border or Mexico itself as much of a national-security threat, the results of a recent Military Times poll suggest.
On Friday, Trump declared a national emergency along the U.S. border with Mexico, in order to secure funding for his long-proposed border wall, which Congress has refused to fund. The $8 billion border wall will be partially funded by $3.6 billion meant for military construction.
“We fight wars 6,000 miles away, many we don’t have any business being in, but we don’t fight the wars at our own border,” Trump said during a Rose Garden press conference. “We have tremendous amounts of drugs flowing into our country, much of it coming from the southern border … They say walls don’t work, but walks work 100 percent.”
An October Military Times poll of nearly 900 active-duty troops found that 60 percent believed immigration was either a small threat to U.S. national security or no threat at all. Only 23 percent labeled the issue as a significant or very significant threat.
Likewise, 77 percent of respondents viewed Mexico as a small threat or none whatsoever, and only 9 percent described it as a significant or very significant threat.
Much more pressing concerns, in the eyes of troops, included cyberterrorism, Russia and China. White nationalists were also viewed as a greater threat than immigration.
White House officials on Friday brought up two instances in which presidents have declared a national emergency to use money without Congress’ approval: once in 1990 by George H.W. Bush after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and again in 2001 by George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Both Bushes were responding to specific acts of aggression, and both used military funds for different military purposes. Neither is the case with Trump’s declaration.
“I think he’s within the law to do what he’s doing,” said Blas Nunez-Neto, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation specializing in homeland and border security. “It’s a question of whether Congress agrees and whether the courts agree that the current situation can be construed as a national-security emergency.
“Historically, these kinds of powers have generally been used for war or war-like situations, and this does not appear to meet that bar,” he continued.
Nunez-Neto said he wasn’t surprised that the military doesn’t view Mexico as a particularly large threat, given our mostly positive relationship with our neighbor to the south pre-Trump.
He also said that what’s currently going on at our border isn’t “substantially different” from immigration flow over the last few years, except for an increase in Central American families fleeing their countries to seek asylum in the U.S.
What makes this group different than your typical illegal immigrant, Nunez-Neto said, is that they aren’t “trying to avoid detection,” and are in fact turning themselves over to officers at ports of entry to enter the asylum process.
It’s a grueling, dangerous journey with no guarantee of success when they finally reach the border.
“These families have made a decision that it’s worth subjecting themselves to those risks because they can come here and claim asylum,” Nunez-Neto said. “Our system has created an incentive for families to do this. We have to come together in Congress to figure out ways to minimize those incentives.”
On the question of whether Trump’s declaration can be reversed, Nunez-Neto explained that Congress can try to pass legislation stopping it. New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro have already vowed to introduce a bill to do just that.
Nunez-Neto also said that local jurisdictions where the wall is being built can sue to stop its construction as well, a process that would take longer but is “one that many people would anticipate would end up at the Supreme Court.”
He added that the wall doesn’t address the influx of Central Americans seeking asylum, which he believes is a bigger problem than immigrants from Mexico.
"It’s not clear to me that constructing additional barriers will have much of an effect on that population,” Nunze-Neto said. “If the people who have been arriving in increasing numbers are not trying to evade detection, I’m not sure a barrier will really address that flow.”