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Posse Comitatus Act of 1878
An act making appropriations for the support of the Army for the fiscal year ending June thirtieth, eighteen hundred and seventy-nine, and for other purposes.
Signed into law by President Rutherford B. Hayes on June 18, 1878
The Posse Comitatus Act is a United States federal law (18 U.S.C. § 1385, original at 20 Stat. 152) signed on June 18, 1878, by President Rutherford B. Hayes. The purpose of the act – in concert with the Insurrection Act of 1807 – is to limit the powers of the federal government in using federal military personnel to enforce domestic policies within the United States. It was passed as an amendment to an army appropriation bill following the end of Reconstruction and was updated in 1956 and 1981.
The act specifically applies only to the United States Army and, as amended in 1956, the United States Air Force. Although the act does not explicitly mention the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps, the Department of the Navy has prescribed regulations that are generally construed to give the act force with respect to those services as well. The act does not prevent the Army National Guard or the Air National Guard under state authority from acting in a law enforcement capacity within its home state or in an adjacent state if invited by that state's governor. The United States Coast Guard, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security, is not covered by the Posse Comitatus Act either, primarily because although the Coast Guard is an armed service, it also has both a maritime law enforcement mission and a federal regulatory agency mission.
The more than 5,200 active-duty troops being sent by President Donald Trump to the U.S.-Mexico border will be limited in what they can do under a federal law that restricts the military from engaging in law enforcement on American soil.
That means the troops will not be allowed to detain immigrants, seize drugs from smugglers or have any direct involvement in stopping a migrant caravan that is still about 1,000 miles from the nearest border crossing.
Instead, their role will largely mirror that of the existing National Guard troops — about 2,000 in all — deployed to the border over the past six months, including providing helicopter support for border missions, installing concrete barriers and repairing and maintaining vehicles. The new troops will include military police, combat engineers and helicopter companies equipped with advanced technology to help detect people at night.