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

While some local CBP agents welcomed the National Guard in 2006, as they now do in 2014, the CBP’s institutional judgment should always be reconsidered in light of its own history: it has a wretched record of cost accounting as evidenced by a long list of projects and programs that monumentally failed. Most recent is CBP’s SBI-net that cost the public more than a whopping $1 billion, but failed miserably to achieve its stated objectives.

Equally significant in response to Governor Perry’s announcement that he will send the state’s guardsmen to the border, are the direct comments by south Texas sheriffs. Says Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio, “I really don’t know what they’re going to do.” “I need people who I can hire who know the community, the language and who can help”(Christy Hoppe, “Perry says troops will be ‘force multiplier’ to battle crime; sheriffs say they need deputies, not military,” Dallas News, 21 July 2014).

Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra told the McAllen Monitor that the Guard troops can’t make arrests and he didn’t know what their objective would be. “The National Guard — they’re trained in warfare; they’re not trained in law enforcement,” he said. “I need to find out what their actual role is going to be, but I think the money would be better spent giving local law enforcement more funds.”

Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a Democratic state senator from McAllen, a border community, added that if crime were a reason to call out the National Guard, then based on statistics, the troops would be better sent to Dallas and Houston.

Sheriff Lucio and other sheriffs not based in Austin or Washington, D.C., all note that the influx of unaccompanied children at the border has not resulted in a corresponding increase in crime. This appears to be less a border security issue than a humanitarian crisis. After all, we seem to forget these are children, including infants, who are asking to be arrested at our Mexican border (see Steve Benen, “Perry fails to impress Texas border sheriffs,” MSNBC, 23 July 2014; and Jennifer Medina,  “Most Migrant Children Entering U.S. are now with Relatives, Data Show,” New York Times, 25 July 2014).

So we are left with four essential questions: What exactly are these 1,000 members of the National Guard going to do at the border? Do they have the professional skills to actually help the CPB? How much is it going to cost? At present the bill is $12 million a month for the National Guard, plus $5 million a month for an increase in Texas Department of Public Safety agents reassigned to the border. Governor Perry wants the federal government to help pay (Dan Restrepo and Ann Garcia, The Surge of Unaccompanied Children from Central America: Root Causes and Policy Solutions, Center for American Progress, 24 July 2014).

My own take is that the two and one-half year increase in unaccompanied children seeking asylum should be defined less as a border security problem, 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.

In the name of border security, will Congress really deport these children who are guilty of nothing but escaping violence in their countries?

Robert Lee Maril, a professor of Sociology at East Carolina University, is the author o f The Fence: National Security, Public Safety, and Illegal Immigration along the U.S.-Mexico Border. He blogs at