Military May Augment Border Patrol
Under pressure from Congress and border state governors, the Pentagon is reviewing options for augmenting the Border Patrol as a surge force.
The Pentagon is looking at ways the military can help provide more security along the U.S. southern border, defense officials said Thursday, once again drawing the nation’s armed forces into a politically sensitive domestic role.
Paul McHale, the assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, asked officials this week to come up with options for the use of military resources and troops — particularly the National Guard — along the border with Mexico, according to defense officials familiar with the discussions. The officials, who requested anonymity because the matter has not been made public, said there are no details yet on a defense strategy.
Defense officials said they have been asked to map out what military resources could be made available if needed — including options for using the National Guard under either state or federal control. The strategy would also explore the legal guidelines for use of the military on domestic soil, the officials said.
On Capitol Hill on Thursday, the House voted 252-171 to allow Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to assign military personnel under certain circumstances to help the Homeland Security Department with border security. The House added the provision to a larger military measure.
In the aftermath of the hurricane, Bush asked Pentagon officials to review ways to give the military a bigger role in responding to major disasters. But officials are somewhat reluctant to make major changes, leery of the image of armed military troops patrolling U.S. cities. Under the Civil War-era Posse Comitatus Act, federal troops are prohibited from performing law enforcement actions, such as making arrests, seizing property or searching people. In extreme cases, however, the president can invoke the Insurrection Act, also from the Civil War, which allows him to use active-duty or National Guard troops for law enforcement.
It is a bedrock principle of American politics that the military does not get involved in domestic policing under any but the gravest of conditions. Peacetime standing armies were anathema until necessitated by the enduring Cold War. We even have a provision in the Bill of Rights precluding quartering of troops in private homes.
This reluctance to politicize the military stems from the abuses seen in Europe and domestically during the Colonial era and has been reinforced time and again by observation of the developing world, where professional militaries are the only trusted institution and not infrequently assume the reins of power.
Short of an armed invasion from Mexico, it is simply bizarre to consider militarizing the border.
Update: Bryan at Hot Air is excited.
Update: AP is reporting that President Bush is weighing this very seriously.
President Bush, trying to build momentum for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, is considering plans to shore up the Mexican border with National Guard troops paid for by the federal government, according to senior administration officials. One defense official said military leaders believe the number of troops required could range from 3,500 to 10,000, depending on the final plan. Another administration official cautioned that the 10,000 figure was too high. The officials insisted on anonymity since no decision has been announced.
The president was expected to reveal his plans in an address Monday at 8 p.m. EDT. It will be the first time he has used the Oval Office for a domestic policy speech — a gesture intended to underscore the importance he places on the divisive immigration issue.
More from NYT:
Mr. Bush will speak from the Oval Office beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern time [Monday] and is expected to propose new enforcement measures along the United States’ border with Mexico, including the use of additional troops. The White House spokesman, Tony Snow, said the president would speak for about 20 minutes, and that television networks had been asked to carry the speech live. “This is crunch time,” Mr. Snow told reporters this morning.
National Guard troops have been deployed by border-state governors from time to time, in communications roles, fence-repair work and anti-drug enforcement as well as border surveillance. Guard troops are normally under state control, although they can be put under federal control in emergencies.
This saddens me, though I understand the politics. In this case, I believe Bush’s policy inclinations are right on the money but public opinion is pushing strongly in the other direction. In the Dubai Ports deal, where he was also right and kneejerk public opinion wrong, the situation took care of itself. Here, he’s apparently willing to capitulate to public pressure given his low poll ratings and thus lack of “political capital.” Presidents in trouble do that. Think Nixon and wage and price controls, which he knew were idiotic and against all laws of economics.