commentary (2006-20)

We don’t look bellicose enough already

Call in the Guard!

by Barry Henderson

So, President Bush wants to send 6,000 National Guard soldiers to “seal” the southern border and stop Mexicans from crossing into this country without permission. It’s a futile and dangerous gesture, yet he says he wants to do it, and he can, as commander-in-chief. But, does he really want to? He’s made mistakes in judgment in military matters, and this looks like another example that could lead his approval ratings farther down the graph.

The president’s latest gambit in the national controversy surrounding illegal immigration from Mexico has the appearance of a bargaining chip. It seems to be a trade-off to gain congressional support for his guest-worker proposals and to buy time until thousands more border patrol personnel can be hired, trained and put in place.

That staffing increase is projected for sometime in 2008.

The positioning of 6,000 Guard troops along that 2,000-mile-plus stretch of border would not appreciably affect the illegal crossings. And even if it did, it’s a risky proposition. The National Guard does not train its people for border security. It trains those dedicated volunteers to protect the nation against its enemies, not a stream of civilians from a relatively impoverished country seeking to earn better compensation from a host of U.S. employers who are anxious to employ them.

Using the National Guard to control civilians almost promises violent confrontations. My first thought was of Kent State. I recalled in horror the murder of Vietnam War protesters there by Ohio National Guard. Could such an outrage happen again in this day and age? Yes.

There has to be a better way of promoting the idea of securing the border, even though no such concept may be both practicable and humane. There will be attempts, both unsuccessful and successful, to enter the United States for economic opportunity so long as the motivation exists, and the potential employers are amenable to, hiring undocumented workers.

The irony is that the North American Free Trade Agreement has resulted in the exportation of thousands of good jobs from the United States to Mexico and that many of the same people who decried that NAFTA exportation outcome are those who are outspokenly offended by the fact that Mexicans are flocking to take jobs in this country. Never mind that unemployment here has been at historic lows for years, dating back almost to the signing of NAFTA.

The red-herring assertion that we must protect our borders from incursions by terrorists smacks of blatant racism coupled with nationalism. There have been no terrorist attacks on this country by people who crossed the Mexican border. We must rely on our international intelligence network to prevent terrorists from entering our land to do harm to us, because sealing our borders is simply impossible.

Using military personnel to attempt to block unauthorized entry to this country can be read as a concession to the likelihood of violent events that will cause the American people undue embarrassment in the world view. Adopting what will surely be seen as draconian methods to keep people out is as unacceptable in the eyes of our erstwhile allies in what used to be called the Free World, as what the Soviets did to keep people in.

If the president is lucky, and the maneuver does not result in unnecessary deaths to undocumented border-crossers, the only conceivable positive result would be that the president’s congressional detractors, most of whom are in his own party, will acquiesce to the impetus of guest-worker legislation. The legislation is supported by Bush and a bipartisan group of senators and a determined minority in the House of Representatives. And it would convey to illegal immigrants a chance to become legal workers, to pay a fine and apply for a green card, to pay all taxes and to become eligible for citizenship once they learn enough English to pass the exams and demonstrate a clean record in this country for a number of years yet to be set.

If you think we can’t use more hard-working American citizens in the future, you’re not looking ahead far enough. This country has never thrived on exclusiveness, and there’s no reason to believe that will change as the 21st century matures.

Having soldiers (or law enforcement officers, for that matter) standing guard by the thousands at our borders will only make us look stupid.