Obama to send 1,200 National Guard troops to US-Mexico border

An immigrant rights activist lays crosses in honor of immigrants who have died.

President Barack Obama announced the deployment of 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexican border on Tuesday, to aid local law enforcement in stemming the tide of drug traffickers and illegal immigration. The announcement came shortly after he left a lunch meeting with the Senate Republican Caucus.

The President will also be requesting an additional $500 million in federal spending for law enforcement involved in patrolling the nearly 2,000 miles of border between the U.S. and Mexico.

But the Republican Senators from Arizona say more troops and funding are needed: both John McCain and Jon Kyl had originally requested 9,000 troops. They would also like the troops to play a more active role in enforcement.

The troops’ orders and destination are still unclear, as is the timeline of their deployment, although administration officials have said that the troops will help with a variety of issues on the border.

Among their goals will be to aid in intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance, and possibly enforcement, although the Department of Defense is hesitant to support such a use of U.S. troops.

Pentagon officials in the past have worried that such a use of the National Guard may be misconstrued as a militarization of the border, although some may argue that an increased police presence could likewise be militarization of sorts.

According to a letter from security officials James L. Jones and John O. Brennan on Tuesday, the troops being deployed will be used to support border patrol agents until Customs and Border Protection can recruit and train enough officers to relieve the National Guard.

Some U.S. troops being deployed will, nonetheless, be armed.

The Mexican Government responded Tuesday, saying they hoped troops would be used only to combat drug cartels, and not to enforce immigration laws. Officials worried that using military units in such a way may lead to further abuses of civilians.

The concerns are justified.

Since the initiation of Operation Gatekeeper, a U.S. border patrol operation launched by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1994, between 3,861 and 5,607 people have died trying to cross the U.S.-Mexican border.

The ACLU has condemned the high mortality rates as an “international humanitarian crisis.”

And it certainly is.

Since its inception, Operation Gatekeeper and other plans like it have focussed on deterring immigrants from crossing into highly populated areas by stepping up visible enforcement along their borders. This in turn would force immigrants towards less hospitable, and more dangerous, areas.

The Senators from Arizona more or less agree on this strategy. Republican Jon Kyl criticized Obama’s deployment, arguing that “[the troops] were not intended to be deployed to the border.”

“Rather they’ll be investigating, administrative support, maybe training… Now that’s all fine…but the real value of the National Guard is to be seen.”
The strategy, however cruel, works… at least partially.

In 1994, San Diego was the largest point of entry for undocumented workers – border patrol agents were making 450,000 apprehensions there annually. But within five years of Operation Gatekeeper, that number had dropped to 150,000.

Of course, this didn’t mean the number of immigrants entering the country had declined. It only meant that the number of immigrants entering through San Diego had declined. In fact, migrants had simply been pushed towards another state: Arizona.

In 1994, when greater enforcement began in San Diego, apprehensions in the Tuscon and Yuma sectors of Arizona were around 160,000 annually. But within 6 years of the increased enforcement in California, apprehensions in Arizona skyrocketed to over 700,000.

In fact, one could say that the impetus for such a crackdown on immigrants in Arizona today was actually a similar crackdown in California years ago.

Immigration enforcement in this country has only been able to shift immigration, never slow it significantly. In fact, as we discussed in a previous article, the only thing which has definitively slowed immigration has been the recession.

In an article published in La Cronica de Hoy, a Mexican newspaper, locals were “more than worried” about the increased presence of troops at the border, especially at a time when more than 14 U.S. states are contemplating laws similar to those in Arizona.

Jorge Chabat, who study’s drug trafficking and migration as a Professor of International Studies in Mexico city, points out that:

“[The] U.S. government has spent over a decade taking similar measures, placing the National Guard at the border and building a wall, but there is no significant impact on the flow of drugs or undocumented workers.”

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