Border wars // By Lee MarilWas/is border National Guard really worth it?

By Lee Maril -

Published 23 January 2012

Since 2006, National Guard troops have been deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border under the assumption that they would help bolster security; with little training, Congressional oversight, or analysis, it is difficult to say how effective the National Guard Troops were; $1.35 billion later, was it really worth it?; as Congress authorizes another $60 million to keep troops stationed along the border, we must ask once more, was it really worth it?

Lee Marill, DIrector of the Center on DIversity and Inequality Reseach at ECU // Source:

Amid much fanfare in 2006, then President George W. Bush deployed several thousand National Guard troops to our Mexican border in order to bring “operational control” to illegal immigration, drug smuggling, and international terrorists. Just as the Congressional elections in the fall of 2006 were ramping up, both Republicans and Democrats struggled to outdo each other on national security issues. Votes were at stake. The deployment of the National Guard at the time was touted by President Bush as a short-term solution to a border security emergency.

Along with the deployment of the National Guard, Congress also passed a series of bills in lieu of a comprehensive immigration policy demanded by critics including many elected representatives from border states. Among these bills and subsequent funding authorizations was the authority for the Department of Homeland Security to build a border fence, including a high tech, “virtual wall” contracted to Boeing, Inc., which was designated the “Systems Integrator” of DHS’ Security Border Initiative.

The Obama administration continued this same border security policy as thousands of National Guard troops rotated through tours of duty from Brownsville to San Diego. Again, as with the policy under Bush, the justification for the deployment of the National Guard along the border was that “operational control” had not yet been achieved. Little to no mention was made by either Republican or Democratic administrations of the actual costs of the deployment of the National Guard to the border.

It also remains unclear exactly how the deployment of the National Guard directly benefited border security. In general these citizen-soldiers lack strategic or cultural knowledge of the Mexican border, do not know how to speak Spanish, are unfamiliar with the intricacies of immigration law, and are not trained in drug or human trafficking interdictions in which American citizens may be active participants. It also should be noted that it takes Border Patrol agents who have been trained at their academy at least one additional year or more after they have been posted to the Mexican border to completely digest the complexities of their assignments and to satisfactorily perform their jobs. In contrast, the National Guard throughout their border deployments were regularly rotated out to other assignments; just as it could be assumed that they became familiar with the unique characteristics of the borderlands, they left.

Now the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that the cost for these years of border National Guard deployments is $1.35 billion. While the majority of Guardsmen now will be sent home or deployed elsewhere, at least 300 will remain at the Mexican border through 2012.

In these economic times, $1.35 billion is not a small number, especially since there has been little fiscal oversight by both parties in Congress. So was it worth the cost?  And just exactly what did all these Guardsmen do for six years?  In short we have very limited number of federal reports and no independent analysis of which I am aware that either demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of this six-year deployment or scientifically measure the contributions of the National Guard to border national security. It is difficult to ask questions if there is little or no accurate or reliable data readily available.

In this regard there is an alarming lack of transparency demonstrated by both the Bush and Obama administrations as well as Congress, an unwillingness to provide information that would support or justify public policies involving both national security and public safety. 

The GAO also reports that the deployment of the 300 National Guard along the border will cost $60 million in 2012.  Was the $1.35 billion really worth it?  And is this new expenditure of $60 million in 2012 going to be taxpayer money well spent?

Lee Maril is a professor of Sociology at East Carolina University and the director of its Center on Diversity and Inequality Research. Maril has authored six books on the border including The Fence, his most recent work which focuses on the government’s continuing efforts to build a virtual and physical fence along the southwestern border. He blogs at