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Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger

Representing the 2nd District of Maryland

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Wall Street Journal: I Won’t Vote to Fund the Border Deployment

Nov 16, 2018
Op-Ed
It’s a wasteful political stunt. There are better ways to spend hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Trump administration originally dubbed the deployment of up to 15,000 active-duty troops to the southern border Operation Faithful Patriot. It’s possible that the faith and patriotism of America’s soldiers will be tested like never before.

These highly skilled, highly trained warriors are passing the days emplacing barbed wire and setting up tents while awaiting a caravan of unarmed asylum seekers. Instead of eating Thanksgiving dinner with their families next week, they will be eating prepackaged, brown-bagged MREs. Many are sleeping in tents with no electricity or air-conditioning. Reports of heat exhaustion are already coming in.

Retired generals from both sides of the aisle have decried the move as wasteful, especially as President Trump asks the Pentagon to do more with less elsewhere and slash next year’s budget by about $33 billion to curtail the biggest federal deficit in six years.

Some 2,000 National Guardsmen have been deployed at the border since April, costing $103 million through September. Keeping them there another year will cost $308 million, according to the Pentagon’s estimates. The active-duty troops now being deployed will cost another $200 million-plus by the end of this year.

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee who sits on the subcommittees that oversee the Homeland Security and Defense department budgets, I work every day to ensure that precious resources are going where America needs them most. Instead of this political stunt, $200 million could pay for:

• The salaries of 2,500 new Customs and Border Patrol Officers to screen containers for drugs and weapons of mass destruction at seaports.

• Seventy drive-through Non-Intrusive Inspection Systems to screen containers at official ports of entry for smuggled migrants and contraband.

• Four hundred state-of-the-art computed-tomography baggage screeners for the Transportation Security Administration to ensure no one takes explosives or other weapons onto commercial airplanes.

• A Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Cutter to interdict fentanyl coming from China and Central America.

A 2012 Government Accountability Office report identified many pitfalls of sending troops to the border, where they often find themselves responsible for sweeping stables and maintaining Border Patrol vehicles. The anecdotes we’re hearing about the current deployment back up the report. This mission comes with legal ambiguity and no clear mandate. And it carries a tremendous cost as the U.S. faces serious threats from foes including Iran, Russia, China and North Korea, along with independent extremists and cybercriminals.

So while I wholeheartedly support our troops—and it’s their duty to follow the orders of the commander in chief—I won’t vote for new resources for this mission. It’s my duty as an appropriator to be a responsible steward of Americans’ tax dollars.

Mr. Ruppersberger, a Democrat, represents Maryland’s Second Congressional District.

Appeared in the November 16, 2018, print edition.