Perry's National Guard Deployment More Symbolic Than Sustainable

TUCSON, Arizona--Texas Governor Rick Perry announced on Monday plans to deploy 1,000 National Guard troops to the part of the state’s border with Mexico hardest hit by the current immigration crisis. However, he offered few specifics on how they would be used, and did not indicate he made this decision after any consultation with the federal government or Texas border sheriffs.

National Guard troops have been deployed to the southwest border in years past, and with a considerable amount of success. However, the security situation and overall cross-border movement was very different at the time, and so was the intent of the deployment. It will also take time to move so many Guard members into the Rio Grande sector and train them on whatever their mission will be, and much can change in one month’s time. The projected cost of the deployment is expected to be several million dollars per month, and there is no clear indication of who will pay for that—although Perry has made it clear that he expects the federal government to foot the bill. 

As a result of all this, Perry’s deployment order is coming across more as political grandstanding rather than an effective border security strategy or wise use of taxpayer dollars.

In 2006 under former President George W. Bush, roughly 6,000 National Guard troops were deployed to the southwest border to support Operation Jump Start and assist with surveillance, installing fences and vehicle barriers, as well as provide training. What’s most important to note about this deployment is that it was designed to “supplement and support current efforts while CBP hires and trains 6,000 additional Border Patrol agents and implements the Secure Border Initiative and SBInet.” This is not the current situation in south Texas at all. There is no plan to hire and train several thousand Border Patrol agents for placement in the Rio Grande sector, with the National Guard providing support during this process. SBInet was also scrapped in 2011 as a total failure.

Operation Jump Start was the result of considerable collaboration between the National Guard and the federal government, which had already agreed to reimburse the cost of a border deployment it fully supported. Don Reay, executive director of the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition, told the Los Angeles Times that Perry’s administration did not consult with border sheriffs before making the announcement, and that the group has not yet taken a position on the issue. “We would prefer money be made available to local law enforcement” for overtime and more personnel, Reay said, adding that the border sheriffs “should have a place at the table when they're doing the planning.” 

Many people also don’t understand that National Guard troops can’t enforce civilian laws, and that includes federal immigration laws. During Operation Jump Start, troops did serve as a “force multiplier”—an expression Perry used frequently during and after his announcement—in the sense that they were extra pairs of eyes and ears. They were able to man surveillance posts and use military-grade scopes and other equipment to detect illegal cross-border activity. However, whenever activity was detected, the Guard had to notify Border Patrol agents who were the only ones authorized to respond and apprehend anyone.

One would think it couldn’t hurt to have an additional thousand pairs of eyes and ears in south Texas, especially when the manpower requirements to process illegal immigrants are pulling agents away from looking for drug smugglers. However, without additional Border Patrol agents to respond to drug smuggling attempts, Guard troops aren’t of much use since they can’t legally detain anyone. The question also arises as to whether or not more eyes and ears are even needed when the majority of the 57,000 minors who have been apprehended since October 2013 are voluntary seeking out and turning themselves in to Border Patrol agents.

One of the biggest challenges to agents is that they have to spend a lot of time inside the stations just to process the hundreds of immigrants they’re apprehending every week. It would be great if the National Guard could conduct the processing so agents could be freed up to go after drug smugglers, but there is no indication they could be used in this capacity. The Guard did provide administrative support during Operation Jump Start, but that was provided at the sector headquarters offices so agents there could move out into the field. They also can’t magically create new processing or detention facilities, which are sorely needed.

Perry gave a very telling interview to Brit Hume from FOX News on Monday during which Hume grilled the governor on the practicality of the Guard deployment. One thing Perry mentioned repeatedly was a “show of force,” as if the sight of so many men and women in military uniforms would deter illegal immigrants from crossing into Texas. Maybe some would be deterred, but it wouldn’t take long for migrants to figure out that the troops can only use their weapons defensively, and will only hand them over to the Border Patrol, who will process them just as they have been for months.

H. Steven Blum, who was the Chief of the National Guard Bureau from 2003 to 2009, told the Washington Post on July 15, “Until mission requirements are clearly defined, it can’t be determined whether this is an appropriate use of the Guard in this particular case.” Blum added, “Merely sending the Guard to the border is not a panacea for the myriad complex problems of the current situation.” Texas Adjutant Gen. John Nichols said during the same briefing in which Perry made the deployment announcement, “If we were asked to, we could detain people, but we’re not planning on that. We’re planning on referring and deterring.” A guard spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor, added that troops will operate under the Texas Department of Public Safety’s “umbrella” and “we will not exceed their authorities.”

The State of Texas has a long history of taking matters into its own hands with regards to border security, and many of these initiatives like Operation Border Star and Operation Drawbridge have met with considerable success. However, getting into the business of shipping 1,000 Guard troops away from their homes for an indeterminate period of time to fulfill a mission that is murky at best isn’t the solution to the current border crisis. The deployment plays well to Texas constituents who favor stronger border protection measures. However, the flaws in Perry’s plan will easily become transparent in short order—if they haven’t already—and won’t do anything to resolve the problems stemming from the immigrant surge in the Rio Grande Valley.

You can read more about the State of Texas is taking matters into its own hands, as well as Washington’s inability to define what a secure border looks like in order to develop a comprehensive border security strategy, in Sylvia Longmire’s book, Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer.


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