In a major speech on immigration reform and border security last night, President George W. Bush announced a plan to send troops to assist in controlling the southern border. The President explained that the "commitment of Guard members would last for a period of one year. After that, the number of Guard forces will be reduced as new Border Patrol agents and new technologies come on-line." This proposed policy would provide some immediate relief to a pressing problem: an open border that now serves as a highway for hundreds of thousands of illegal crossings every year. Even though current National Guard forces are deployed overseas and others are needed at home for disaster response, the number required for support at our nation's border is neither unreasonable nor an undue burden on the force. Deploying military forces, however, is not an efficient or effective long-term solution.
The Guard at the Border
Border control is a legitimate national security concern, and the use of the military to assist at the border is appropriate while long-term, comprehensive solutions are being put in place. There is ample legal authority, as well. National Guard troops could serve under the command of governors, and the National Guard could even be used for law enforcement purposes. Although the president has chosen not to use the Guard in direct law enforcement positions out of a desire not to "militarize" the border, he has authority, under an exemption to the Posse Comitatus Act, to have troops enforce laws at the border if it is necessary to their mission. Finally, precedence, policies, and procedures are in place to employ military forces. The U.S. military, both the National Guard and active forces, has been used on the border in recent years.
Comprehensive Long-Term Solutions Needed
While the use of military forces on a temporary basis is appropriate, it is not a long-term solution to border control. America needs a military that is prepared to perform all of its vital national security missions. It also needs persistent border security. Over the long term, more efficient and effective assets can be used to secure the border, thus freeing up the military for the missions only it can do.
Troops at the border alone cannot substitute for the comprehensive immigration and border security reform that is required to control illegal immigration. Congress and the Administration must provide a comprehensive solution that addresses the sources of illegal migration, controls U.S. borders, and enforces immigration laws internally.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.