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Border securityDoes the border really need Perry’s 1,000 National Guard?

By Robert Lee Maril

Published 31 July 2014

Various solutions to the two and one-half year surge at the border by unaccompanied children from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador have been proposed by Congress, law enforcement, the public, and politicians with a dog in the fight. The increase in unaccompanied children seeking asylum, however, should be defined less as a border security problem, and more as a refugee problem. At the same time, this newest border dilemma reemphasizes Congress’s failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform that could calmly address this and other real border issues, all problems with which individual states like Texas have had to contend since 1986.

Various solutions to the two and one-half year surge at the border by unaccompanied children from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador have been proposed by Congress, law enforcement, the public, and politicians with a dog in the fight. But lest we forget recent history, Governor Rick Perry’s decision to send 1,000 National Guard men and women to the Texas border should be considered in light of similar attempts. We’ve already seen this supposed solution to gain “operational control” of the Texas border. President George W. Bush tried it in 2006, as did President Barack Obama in 2010. Both turned to the National Guard as a quick and symbolic fix to a broken set of immigration laws(see Robert Lee Maril, “Was/is border National Guard really worth it?” HSNW, 23 January 2012).

The actual performance and utility of the National Guard at the border, however, is highly questionable. First and foremost, these men and women are professional soldiers, not law enforcers. While this point might seem to be mere quibbling, the work of the average Border Patrol Agent is far different than the training our citizen soldiers receive. Border Patrol Agents must be knowledgeable of the language and culture of those they attempt to apprehend, cognizant of immigration law, and familiar with the border terrain. Agents in south Texas say that it takes them at least a year to learn the tricky environment of the Rio Grande River including the slight of hand of both human smugglers and those trafficking in illegal drugs. These are all skills that the National Guard to not have.

According to the GAO, the border deployment from 2006 to 2012 cost $1.35 billion. And in 2012, at a cost of $60 million per year, 300 Guardsmen were permanently assigned to the border after their fellow Guardsmen were sent home. No cost analysis or independent assessment of the performance of the National Guard at the border were ever publicized. It remains problematic whether the bill paid by taxpayer was indeed worth it.