This week, President Donald Trump announced his plan to send the National Guard to the southern border of the United States, ostensibly to "secure the border," according to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. This news might leave you with some questions, for instance: what does the National Guard do, and what will its role look like when it's patrolling the border with Mexico?
Simply put, the National Guard in the broadest sense is a reserve branch of the U.S. military, with units in all 50 states. The National Guard is under joint state and federal control, and in the past, it's been employed in a variety of contexts.
For example, the National Guard was deployed in the aftermath of last year's hurricanes in Houston and Florida. In this context, however, troops are being dispatched to the southern border in an effort to tamp down on undocumented immigration, one of Trump's longstanding, controversial, and often inflammatory stances.
As NBC News detailed, however, there may be some restraint applied in the plan, in the apparent hopes of preventing any incidents between the National Guard and people crossing over the border. Namely, according to three anonymous administration officials speaking to NBC, the plan might not allow members of the National Guard to actually make physical contact with immigrants while patrolling the border.
The Department of Homeland Security addressed the plan on Wednesday, in an official statement from the office of its press secretary. It described the reason for the National Guard's involvement as follows, using the phrase "illegal aliens" to refer to undocumented immigrants.
"Legal loopholes, asylum fraud, a massive court backlog, and drastically insufficient immigration enforcement resources encourage illegal immigration and threaten the security of our nation. The result is that even apprehended illegal aliens are released and cannot be removed," the press release said. It also clarified that the National Guard would be working in a supporting capacity for members of federal law enforcement, like U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement personnel.
The phrase "illegal alien" has been criticized by many observers and immigration advocates as offensive and dehumanizing, and the Trump administration has used it regularly in official releases and statements. Trump himself announced the planned use of the National Guard on Tuesday, claiming it was time to use the military for border enforcement.
"We are going to be guarding our border with our military," Trump said, as detailed by NBC News. "We cannot have people flowing into our country illegally, disappearing and, by the way, never showing up for court."
In short, based on recent reports, the National Guard's role along the border may be limited from direct physical contact with immigrants. Instead, it sounds like the troops will play a supportive role helping Border Patrol agents keep watch.
Even without the presence of armed border enforcement agents or the National Guard, the unauthorized crossing into the United States is a severely dangerous act, thanks to having to cross through hundreds of miles of scorching-hot desert. More than 7,200 immigrants have reportedly died attempting to make the crossing into the United States since 1998.
From the Trump administration's perspective, the political benefits of this move seem fairly straightforward. Trump has been promising to tighten border security for years, and with funding for his costly proposed border wall in limbo, this can most easily be seen as a way to shore up support among his far-right base.
For pro-immigration activists and advocates, however, it's yet another worrisome and upsetting indication of the current administration's attitude towards undocumented immigrants. In the more than a year since Trump took office, arrests and detentions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have risen by approximately 30 percent.