Lawmakers Want Troops Sent to Border

When he addresses the nation Monday, President Bush is expected to announce the deployment of troops—most likely National Guardsmen—to help secure the porous U.S.-Mexico border. The idea is hardly new, however.

One of the biggest promoters of sending troops to the border is Rep. Charlie Norwood (R.-Ga.). In a column he wrote in February, Norwood outlined what it would take:

There’s no excuse for this. We know right now how to bring this flood of illegal immigration to a virtual halt within the next two weeks.

We need somewhere between 36 and 48 thousand troops immediately deployed to the southern border. The Minuteman Project in April showed that with between 18-24 additional enforcement personnel per mile, we can effectively secure our border for the first time. And it wasn’t just the Minuteman Project that revealed these statistics. The U.S. Border Patrol conducted similar demonstration projects in 1993, Operation Blockade in El Paso and Operation Gatekeeper in San Diego, which produced nearly identical results.

We have a good idea on how much a deployment like that will cost. $2.5 billion a year. Less than 4% of the minimum $70 billion dollars a year we’re currently spending covering the health care, education, and incarceration costs of illegal immigrants.

At the time he wrote the column in February, Norwood called on President Bush to order the Pentagon to fund the effort 100% immediately.

Less than a month later, Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.) brought the effort to the forefront in the Senate, holding a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee about the role for the military in homeland and border security. Testifying at the hearing were Paul McHale, assistant secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense; Lt. Gen. Joseph R. Inge, deputy commander of NORTHCOM; and Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau.

As word spread about Bush’s speech and what he might say, Cornyn reacted positively to the development:

“The truth is, we must use all available federal assets to secure our borders. The Pentagon assists the Department of Homeland Security now, but we can and must do more to maximize military assets along the border until the DHS has adequate assets to ensure our border security. Ground sensors, UAVs and other assets and technologies are needed now, and should be deployed as quickly possible.”

Nothing in Washington moves quickly—and even if Bush does order the National Guard to the border, who knows how long it will take to get them there—but the mere fact that the White House is considering the idea shows a willingness to at least embrace viable solutions to the problem. (While I profess no inside knowledge of the White House’s inner workings, I can’t help but suspect that Tony Snow is behind the idea.)

Unfortunately, it’s taken until mid-May for the President to act on a matter that, as Norwood said in February, could have been implemented in weeks. Instead, illegal border crossings have continued—and possibly escalated—as Bush held out for an amnesty deal in Congress.