Trump’s immigration policy was unfathomably cruel. It was just as unfathomably stupid.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that Stephen Miller, Trump’s unfathomably racist immigration guru, pressed the Department of Homeland Security to provide an estimate of the number of troops it would take to shut down and secure the entire southern border in order to prevent migrants from carrying disease into the United States as the coronavirus was spreading the previous March.
The number turned out to be 250,000, more than half of the entire U.S. Army.
The idea was taken seriously enough that it was being discussed among top U.S. military command, prompting then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper to blow a gasket, reportedly. He quashed the idea after “a brief but contentious” showdown with Miller at the Oval Office. The potential plan to send a quarter of a million troops to the border was discussed in a meeting at the White House, but according to the Times, never formally presented to Trump.
Trump had his own ideas, though.
Months earlier, the former president tweeted that it was time “to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the Earth” after nine Americans were killed by the cartels in Mexico. He wasn’t kidding. According to the Times, Trump repeatedly asked about sending troops into Mexico to hunt down the cartels, with some inside the White House worrying he wanted to do so unilaterally, without the permission of Mexico.
Trump’s insistence that troops be sent into Mexico persisted until around the time Miller was pushing for 250,000 troops to be deployed to the border. Trump was eventually talked out of literally invading Mexico after aides rightly informed him that it would look like the United States was going to war with one of its closest allies.
Miller and Trump didn’t see their ideas come to fruition, but they were able to finagle a consolation prize. In March, the administration implemented Title 42, a public-health provision that allowed them to essentially shut down the border to asylum seekers. The provision is based on the idea that migrants posed a unique public-health risk as the U.S. tried to tamp down the pandemic.
The idea that refugees would exacerbate the pandemic any more than, say, tens of millions of Americans refusing to get vaccinated, has been roundly debunked by public-health experts. Nevertheless, the Biden administration has repeatedly defended the policy, and last month used it to deport thousands of Haitian refugees waiting to apply for asylum at the border.