Mission Change For National Guard At U.S.-Mexico Border

By Hernán Rozemberg
December 14, 2011

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- The years-long deployment of National Guard soldiers at the U.S.-Mexico border is about to change significantly.

Through various missions, soldiers have been at the border since former President George W. Bush dispatched 6,000 troops in 2006.

The mission for the 1,200 currently deployed ends in December and no formal announcement of an extension has yet to come from President Barack Obama. But congressional sources say soldiers will remain, albeit in different roles.

“To our knowledge, throughout the first quarter at least of 2012 is when we’ll see the transition scaling back on one end and increasing intelligence and technological resources on the other,” said Mike Rosen, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, (R-TX).

But McCaul, and others who are hawkish on border security, say now is not the time to pull back the National Guard. They insist the border is far from being secure, despite the increase in border agents and technology in recent years.

Photo by Sgt. Jim Greenhill, courtesy National Guard.
An Army National Guard soldier works as a member of an entry identification team watching the U.S.-Mexico border near Nogales, Ariz., during Operation Jump Start on Jan. 17, 2007. (Photo by Sgt. Jim Greenhill, National Guard Bureau)

“The border is only 44 percent operationally secure,” Rosen said. “Even though we will be implementing greater technology and greater intelligence capabilities, you have to have those in conjunction with the boots on the ground.”

Some border experts counter that soldiers are not properly trained, they double-up as border agents and were only meant as a temporary back-up.

Doris Meissner was the country’s top immigration enforcer in the 1990s under the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

“We’re spending billions on border enforcement, so at a certain point the Border Patrol should be able to bring about border security,” said Meissner, now a senior researcher at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C. “And evidence shows more and more that point is at hand.”

Other congressional offices were told the current National Guard “Southwest Border Mission” will be cut in half and soldiers will redeploy to different border points to serve as intelligence analysts.

The Associated Press (AP) reports that a federal official briefed on the new strategy said the reduced force will focus their efforts on aerial surveillance. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plan has not been announced, according to the AP.