Is the Bush Administration finally going to "get serious" on the issue of border security? In recent months, the White House's efforts in that area have been seriously lacking, to say the least. First, the administration floated its "amnesty" proposal, which would have put millions of illegal aliens on the road to legal resident status, and eventually, citizenship. Not surprisingly, Hispanic groups have found the measure "too stringent," while conservatives reacted with a collective barf.
If that weren't bad enough, a California newspaper reported earlier this week that Border Patrol management has been passing information on the Minutemen border monitoring group to their Mexican counterparts. The Border Patrol denided the allegation, but the paper is standing by its story. And perhaps not coincidentally, new polls show Mr. Bush's support eroding among conservatives, particularly on issues like border security.
But there may be a glimmer of hope. The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that the Pentagon has been tasked to develop military solutions for improving border security. These "solutions" reportedly include the potential use of National Guard troops along the border, and possible employment of surveillance assets, such as drones, to monitor the border region. Detailed proposals on how the military might be used are still being developed, but border state Congressmen who have discussed the matter with the White House are said to be "encouraged" by what they've heard.
Additionally, Drudge is running a banner (no link yet) indicating that President Bush is planning to put National Guard troops on the border. Again, we don't have specific details (yet), but this report--if accurate--is another indication that the administration may be moving toward a border plan that actually enhances our security. There is additional reporting that Bush will deliver a major, primetime speech on immigration later this month, which could provide a venue for announcing new military roles in border security.
Critics on the left will denounce this "plan" as pandering to the Republican base (and it probably is, to a minor degree). I prefer to look at it as an initiative that is decades overdue. A wide-open southern border does nothing to improve our national security--it only complicates the task of guarding against terrorist infiltration into the United States. Using the military to help secure our borders will also make it easier for Mr. Bush to implement his "guest worker" program, forcing the illegals--and the American businessmen who hire them--to play by the rules. With a largely unguarded border, there is no incentive for the illegals (or their employers) to abide by existing or proposed regulations. Putting the National Guard on the border can go a long way toward reducing the illegal influx, and steer potential immigrants, guestworkers and employers toward "legal" channels.
One cautionary note: using the guard for border security (while necessary) will place yet another burden on a military force that is increasingly stretched thin. The active duty Army is already at a 1:1 operations tempo (six months at home, six months deployed), and some elements of the national guard are approaching that schedule. If the administration is serious about this proposal, it needs to assign a cadre of southwestern-based guard units to the border mission, and pull them from future rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, the Pentagon needs to ensure that these units have the resources they need to do the job, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets.
As always, the devil's in the operational details. As we get a better picture of the military's role in this operation, we'll see if the Bush Administration is really serious, or simply playing election-year politics.