Why Perry’s National Guard Border Fix Is Fraught with Danger
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The Fiscal Times
July 27, 2014

When Texas Gov. Rick Perry recently announced plans to send 1,000 National Guard troops to the border to help cope with the flood of young Central Americans crossing into this country illegally, he further fueled a debate within Congress and the Obama administration over the value and risks of such a maneuver.

To tighten security and staunch the flow of tens of thousands of young people and mothers with children, congressional leaders and the White House are wrestling with a series of proposals, including the deployment of National Guard troops to supplement the work of beleaguered federal immigration and border authorities.

Related: Perry Tests Obama by Sending Troops to the Border

For decades, the National Guard has been used for an array of assignments, from assisting in the recovery from floods and other natural disasters to drug trafficking interdiction to lending support to federal officials and agents along the border.  

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has repeatedly urged President Obama to send National Guard troops to the border to provide humanitarian assistance and relieve border patrols of some administrative duties.   

Boehner and other House Republicans have made clear they do not want the National Guard to help enforce immigration laws or apprehend illegal immigrants, according to a Boehner spokesperson. By contrast, Gov. Perry has been urging Obama for over a month to deploy 1,000 troops to the border and grant them “arrest powers to support border patrol operations.”

Related: Jeb Bush Warns GOP on Immigration Reform

The New York Times reported late last week that by deploying troops himself instead of through the president, Perry “has the power to order the troops to make arrests and apprehensions, something Guard troops in past border deployments have been prohibited from doing.”

The Times report has triggered concerns from immigration rights advocates and some military and legal experts that troops deployed along the border without proper training and a clear mandate and chain of command could be a recipe for disaster – one that could violate the civil rights of the illegal immigrants or even lead to deadly confrontations.

“I think it’s a stunt, quite honestly,” Daniel Costa, director of Immigration Law and Policy Research at the Economic Policy Institute, said in an interview on Friday. “It’s questionable whether they’ll be able to do anything.”

Some local sheriffs are questioning the order as well. Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra told the McAllen Monitor Guard troops can’t make arrests and he didn’t know what their objective would be, according to MSNBC. “The National Guard – they’re trained in warfare; they’re not trained in law enforcement,” said Guerra. “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.”

Jayson P. Ahern, a former Customs and Border Protection acting commissioner, told The Fiscal Times, “I haven’t seen any plan other than just a press announcement from Gov. Perry, so I don’t know what their plan is.”

Related: Wave of Migrant Children Threatens to Swamp U.S. Immigration Courts

”It’s hard for me to fathom how they can even support that mission because it hasn’t been coordinated and hasn’t been approved” by the Department of Homeland Security, Defense Department and or border patrol officials, said Ahern, who helped coordinate the deployment of 6,000 troops to four border states in 2006, during the administration of President George W. Bush.

Ahern, now a principal at The Chertoff Group, a global security and risk-management advisory firm, stressed the complexity of patrolling the borders and the need for well-trained officers who are familiar with the terrain and who have been deployed for a significant period of time.

“If you start to add in unfamiliar assets [like National Guard troops] that are not under the supervision and control of the Border Patrol, I see that as potentially a hazard and a safety issue,” he added.

It is still unclear whether Gov. Perry – a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate – will actually invoke the power to send in armed troops to make arrests and apprehensions along the border between Texas and Mexico.

Presidents have shied away from such actions in the past. When Bush deployed 6,000 troops in 2006, those troops were used primarily to repair and build fences, undertake surveillance and handle other administrative chores, according to Ahern.

Obama also declined to grant arrest and apprehension powers to the 1,200 troops he deployed along the border in 2010 to enhance security, according to The New York Times report.

Just the threat of Perry sending in troops with marching orders to enforce civilian law in tandem with Texas state police officers has prompted outcries from immigrant rights groups. Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, told The New York Times, “It’s going to complicate the scenario of civil and human rights at the border.”

The Obama administration said Thursday that a team of military and national security analysts was being sent to the Texas border “to determine whether there is a productive role for the National Guard in response to the crisis,” according to The Washington Post.

White House officials indicated on Friday there was scant hope Congress would reach agreement on an emergency package of funding and measures to address the border crisis before lawmakers leave on a five-week recess at the end of this week, The Washington Post reported. House Republicans now say they’re willing to support only about $1 billion of the $3.7 billion of emergency funding and authority Obama has requested.

“It is my hope that Speaker Boehner and House Republicans will not leave town for the month of August for their vacations without doing something to help solve this problem,” Obama said as he met at the White House with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to discuss the crisis.

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    Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.