(CNN)President Donald Trump's new focus on curbing border crossings and his surprising (even to the Pentagon) plot-twisting decision to deploy the National Guard runs at crosscurrents with the credit he wants for curbing border crossings.
Trump wants it both ways on border crossings
Those conflicting ideas were captured in his Thursday morning tweet.
"The Caravan is largely broken up thanks to the strong immigration laws of Mexico and their willingness to use them so as not to cause a giant scene at our Border. Because of the Trump Administrations actions, Border crossings are at a still UNACCEPTABLE 46 year low. Stop drugs!"
The contradictory portion of the tweet is bookended by separate but related issues.
The caravan he's talking about is the group of Central American migrants making their way through Mexico en route to the United States. CNN's latest reporting is not that it's ending, but rather breaking into smaller groups. The aim of members is to find a US official at the border and seek asylum.
Regarding drugs, Trump has long complained of drugs crossing the border.
The contradictory sentence is the third one.
"Because of the Trump Administrations actions, Border crossings are at a still UNACCEPTABLE 46 year low," Trump writes, the day after his DHS secretary said he signed a proclamation ordering the National Guard to the border.
It's interesting and telling that there are not yet any details about that Guard shift to the border; Trump's decision caught pretty much everyone by surprise.
The contradiction is that he wants credit for lowering border crossings, but suddenly thinks the problem is so urgent as to require military intervention.
If his administration is doing such a good job containing border crossings, why not a more measured process to determine the mission, scope, role and, most important, location where National Guard troops should be deployed, if at all?
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen even called it the "Trump effect" when she briefed reporters at the White House Wednesday -- pointing out that his policies had led to a decrease in crossings during his first year in office.
But then she said that despite the many actions the administration has taken to discourage them and to end programs, "we've recently seen the numbers of illegal border crossings rise from 40-year lows last April, back to previous levels."
That's the opposite of what Trump said Thursday -- that crossings were at a 46-year low.
In Nielsen's telling, the return to previous levels of border crossings is because "criminals, smugglers, TCOs, and the illegal aliens that serve as their currency," had waited to find ways to exploit legal loopholes.
She pointed to asylum laws and had data that she said proved immigrants are working the system in their favor, claiming "credible fear" back home.
Crossings data maintained by DHS seems to back up a surge compared to the crater in crossings in 2017, but less than from other recent years at this time.
The point is that in justifying his deploying of the National Guard, Trump's DHS secretary is pointing to a dangerous surge, but that in his tweet, Trump still wants credit for success.
In the proclamation authorizing deploying the National Guard, Trump ignores specific data of border crossings, but rather cites general "lawlessness" at the border and specifically argues that the flow of drugs and the gang MS-13 compel him to act.
It's worth reading that portion of his proclamation:
The security of the United States is imperiled by a drastic surge of illegal activity on the southern border. Large quantities of fentanyl, other opioids, and other dangerous and illicit drugs are flowing across our southern border and into our country at unprecedented levels, destroying the lives of our families and loved ones. Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and other deadly transnational gangs are systematically exploiting our unsecured southern border to enter our country and develop operational capacity in American communities throughout the country. The anticipated rapid rise in illegal crossings as we head into the spring and summer months threatens to overwhelm our Nation's law enforcement capacities.
It's also worth bearing in mind that Trump has pivoted in April to a hard focus on the border and his frustration with Congress. That he also has an eye on midterm elections, where Republicans are facing headwinds, and how that issue will play with the voters who put him in the White House, has been documented by CNN's Jeremy Diamond.
But stoking fear about border crossings will be more difficult for him if he also wants to argue that he's been effective at keeping border crossings down.