In his political struggle for a border wall, President Trump enlisted a new group of surrogates to join conservative talk show hosts and Republican allies in creating a public case – border patrol officers.
During a visit to a patrol station in McAllen, Texas, this week Trump assembled 15 officers, dressed in uniform and tactical gear, to stand next to him while filming a video of a minute.
"They did an incredible job," said Trump, sporting a "Make America Great Again" campaign hat. "But we all want to see a wall or a barrier because it will make your job even easier … Everyone knows we need a barrier, we need a wall"
The agents remained silent, but the visual message was clear: Trump wanted the audience to believe that Customs and Border Protection, an agency of 59,000 employees, was firmly behind him in a political skirmish that caused a partial closure of the government.
On Friday afternoon, the clip received 2.4 million views on Trump's personal Twitter account and 1.5 million more on his personal Instagram account.
For Trump, the episode offered the ultimate example of his willingness to extend the limits of the use of political messaging order forces. Last week, he led union leaders for border police and immigration and customs to the White House meeting room to spread the wall.
Trump also regularly praised Twitter for one of those union officials – Brandon Judd, who is also an active Border Patrol agent – for his appearances on Fox News to support the president's immigration policies.
Trump's predecessors, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have made trips to the border and have invited the officials of the White House border patrol for political round tables.
But in those cases, officials "were there to explain what they found and declare their professional opinions on what might be useful" in matters of politics, said Theresa Brown, a career officer at the Department of Homeland Security since 2005 -2011.
"This increased the level when Trump was in charge for the office and the unions actively supported his candidacy," Brown said. "It was an explicitly political act, and Trump embraced it."
Trump conducted a campaign on a law that sought to appeal to the police, sheriffs and military troops. He was criticized by the Democrats during a visit to the US military bases in Iraq and Germany last month, when he signed the MAGA hats at the request of the troops.
In the summer, Trump organized an event at the White House to celebrate the "heroes" of Border Patrol and ICE. Dozens of officers and uniformed officers were celebrated in the East Room.
Some former government officials have said that Trump's criticisms are exaggerated.
"It does not seem unusual or inconsistent with what other presidents have done to propagate policy directions," said Julie Myers Wood, who served as a senior DHS official under Bush, of her interactions with Border Patrol agents. "Whenever a president shows interest in your area, I think it's a clear positive".
Yet some national security experts have warned that Trump is creating a dangerous precedent in his use of national security forces and personnel as political props without showing any hesitation to punish current and former officials who do not support his agenda.
Trump has stripped the national security clearance of former officials who criticized him, hailed the "dishonest media" in a photo with sheriffs and visited the CIA headquarters and allegedly exerted pressure on the former director of the CIA. FBI James B. Comey for an investigation into his former national security adviser.
"It's an incredibly dangerous cycle," said Rachel Kleinfeld, national security analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "In countries where democracy breaks down, you have state institutions that do not serve people – they serve the interests of political parties, and when people stop believing that security protects people in the same way, there is a return to justice private ".
John Sandweg, who was a senior DHS official in the Obama administration, challenged Trump's thesis that the border patrol firmly supports a wall. Sandweg stated that the agency has long sought technological updates and "mobile resources" that can be quickly implemented to move the crisis points to the border.
The enforcement divisions of DHS have been in the political sights since the Bush administration created the massive federal agency in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The ICE, and to a slightly lesser extent CBP, has been the subject of intense criticism by some Democrats who have accused their leadership of employing draconian tactics to detain and deport immigrants.
Obama responded by issuing new guidelines aimed at concentrating resources on terrorists, criminals and undocumented new immigrants. But ICE has bothered the new directives, frustrated by the fact that Obama had "tied his hands too much," said Brown, the former DHS official.
However, Brown emphasized Trump's visit to the DHS headquarters during his first week in January 2017, where he identified Judd, the union leader, for the praise of the new national security secretary John F. Kelly.
"I found it extremely strange," said Brown, who now works at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank. "Here is a president who praises the union leader in front of the management, these are people who have to negotiate, it will be slightly contradictory, but the president calls the union over his".
Later that week Trump fired the head of the border patrol, which the union had strongly criticized.
During his Texas border tour, Trump invited Judd to participate in a political discussion on the panel discussion, praising him as someone who has known "from the beginning" of his presidential campaign.
"Almost before I announced, it was for my ideas and it was for us," Trump said. "It was for me, and I appreciate it."
Judd declined a request for comment. There were signs of division within the agency. This week, a separate union for federal workers has sued the Trump administration on behalf of some border police officers who were not paid during the arrest.
This did not bother Trump, who released another version of his video with social media border agents last Friday.
"We need a wall," he said in this clip. "We have to take off politics and we need to get to work".