President Donald Trump is preparing the border for the arrival of migrants from Central America planning to request asylum in the United States. Democrats are asking at what cost.
"15,000 troops will not see their families for #Thanksgiving because of @realDonaldTrump’s Scaravan Stunt," tweeted Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif. "Oh yeah, it’s also costing you 200 million dollars. Is it time to bring our troops home?"
The last question was a Twitter poll; 57 percent of the 137,000 Twitter users who responded said it was time.
The Defense Department has sent thousands of troops to provide logistical support to the Department of Homeland Security, particularly Customs and Border Protection, at the Southwest border. The mission is expected to extend through Dec. 15.
That would, as Swalwell tweeted, keep soldiers away from their families through Thanksgiving. The cost and troop size are in flux, but Swalwell’s estimate overshoots reality.
Swalwell’s communications director Josh Richman told PolitiFact they took Trump’s word that 15,000 troops would be sent to the border.
On Oct. 31, Trump told reporters: "We have about 5,000. We'll go up to anywhere between 10 and 15,000 military personnel on top of border patrol, ICE and everybody else at the border. Nobody's coming in."
But 15,000 troops have not been deployed. As of Nov. 14, about 5,900 active duty troops have been sent in addition to about 2,100 National Guardsmen. The Defense Department anticipates the number to fluctuate between 5,500 and 7,000.
"It could drop down to 5,500, could rise to 7,000, depending on what they ask for at the border," said Lauren Hill, a U.S. Northern Command spokeswoman.
Roughly 1,500 troops are currently stationed in California, 1,500 in Arizona and 2,800 in Texas, Hill said.
That is about half of what Swalwell tweeted, when you include the National Guard.
The Defense Department has not yet announced the total cost of the mission.
"We do not yet have a cost estimate for the operation," said Pentagon spokesman William Speaks. "The DOD Comptroller is reviewing DOD accounts to fund this mission with minimal disruption to readiness and other DOD missions."
Swalwell’s office directed us to news articles that hovered around a $200 million estimate.
A Washington Post report said military deployment costs "could climb well above $200 million by the end of 2018." That estimate summed up the cost of deployment of the National Guard and active duty troops.
The report said the National Guard cost for this operation comes to $77 million, a quarter of what the Post reported National Guard deployment to the border would cost from October 2018 to September 2019. That roughly matches the $103 million Democrats reported the National Guard racked up since initial deployment in April.
Travis Sharp, a research fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budget Assessments, calculated the cost of deploying active duty personnel for the report using the cost of the most recent comparable mission calculated by the Government Accountability Office, adjusted for inflation.
Sharp estimated that deploying 15,000 active duty troops between Oct. 29 and Dec. 15 would cost between $90 and $110 million, landing the total cost at around $200 million. (Deployment of active duty troops is cheaper because they don’t require additional salary or benefits.)
But fewer troops were deployed than Trump announced. When Sharp added the cost of the average number of active duty troops that have been deployed to date with the maximum estimate of 7,000 troops through Dec. 15, he found the cost would range between $42 and $52 million.
That leaves us somewhere between $119 and $129 million.
Swalwell said "15,000 troops will not see their families for #Thanksgiving because of @realDonaldTrump’s Scaravan Stunt. Oh yeah, it’s also costing you 200 million dollars."
Trump floated deploying between 10,000 and 15,000 troops to protect the border. But the Defense Department estimates they will deploy a maximum of 7,000 troops through Dec. 15. That’s in addition to the 2,100 National Guardsmen who have been there since April.
The cost of deployment has not been made public by the Defense Department, but Swalwell cited news stories placing the estimate near $200 million. Given the current troop numbers, the cost might be closer to between $119 and $129 million. That’s still pretty high.
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