The crises at the southern border and within the immigration system seem to have no end. In May, Border Patrol officers encountered over 144,000 undocumented immigrants crossing from Mexico, the largest monthly number in 13 years. Migrants, if detained by the Department of Homeland Security, face overcrowded detention centers, to the point that they are being held in tent cities or, on one occasion, under an overpass in El Paso. Unaccompanied migrant children in U.S. custody will reportedly no longer have access to English lessons or to recreational facilities. Militia groups have illegally detained migrants, joining a long and racist tradition of far-right, paramilitary efforts along the border. And so far, the $1.57 billion allocated for the president’s border wall has yielded just 1.7 miles of fencing.
Also, the existing wall isn’t pretty enough. According to an email from the Department of Homeland Security obtained by CBS News, an unspecified number of troops deployed near the border have been assigned to spend a month working along a mile-long section of the barrier to improve its “aesthetic appearance.” DHS has asked the Pentagon several times in recent months to deploy soldiers to help secure and enforce the border, but a small number of them have been conscripted — Tom Sawyer-style — into paint duty.
DHS did its best to rationalize the effort: In the email to Congress, a Homeland Security official stated that painting barriers near Tucson, Arizona has helped to foil the “camouflaging tactics of illegal border crossers” and that migrants have “greater difficulty” scaling painted bollards. But Democratic lawmakers weren’t buying it. Senator Dick Durbin tweeted that the plan was a “disgraceful misuse of taxpayer $$. Our military has more important work to do than making Trump’s wall beautiful.” Texas representative Joaquin Castro told CBS News that it was a “gross misuse” of the military and that “these are soldiers, not painters.”
It appears as if the Trump administration has found a metaphor for its crisis management strategies: slap a thin coat of paint over a small piece of the problem and let other hemorrhaging crises go unchecked.