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Responsibility For The Nation's Borders

Last week the Bush Administration announced it would use the National Guard for up to two years to support the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in securing the Nation?s border with Mexico. On the surface, temporary use of the National Guard to support Customs and Border Patrol is probably not a bad idea. However, the devil is in the details of its execution, and the length of the commitment.

By law -the Homeland Security Act of 2002 - the Department of Homeland Security is responsible for securing the Nation's borders using the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. It's been no secret that up to now our porous borders have remained a glaring seam of vulnerability. Securing them is a concept that is long overdue in the War on Terror. Some of the issues involved are:

-- We should be wary of applying 19th century solutions to 21st century problems. The exodus of Mexicans across the border into the United States is a social problem that has taken on mass proportions. It will remain so until the underlying economic and government corruption conditions for it in Mexico are corrected. As we well know from Communist examples in the Cold War cement walls, trenches, guns, dogs and barbed wire are not enough to confine social movements. In the information age the military is only one element of national power, and by itself is not the most effective solution for this problem. The other elements of national power - diplomatic, information, economic, social, and law enforcement - also need to be applied to it.

-- Foreign diplomacy implications in our relations with Mexico. Numerous television news discussions have been broadcast on the issues involved in having National Guard soldiers support the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol through their annual training cycles. The problem is that, as the news pundits are talking, they often are showing stock video in the background of soldiers marching in formation, weapons being fired on military training ranges, tanks rolling, etc. Mexican citizens, or American citizens for that matter, who watch these discussions are left to come away with the impression that the Americans are militarizing the border. Of course, the media outlets will deny that these stories are deliberately provocative.

-- Domestic implications involving control of the National Guard. One gets the impression that the Bush Administration wants to have it both ways. On the one hand, the Administration line is that the National Guard formations will be under the control of the Governors but with Federal funding (Title 32, U.S. Code). On the other hand, the Administration line is that the National Guard formations will take their directions from Washington (Departments of Homeland Security and Defense) as if they were under the control of the Federal government (Title 10, U.S. Code). There are inherent political conflicts built into this argument, which have already elicited a letter from the Governor of California to President Bush asking for clarification.

At the end of the day, border security and control is a federal responsibility, although the various border states are impacted greatly by it. As it works toward a solution the Bush Administration will need to work through these questions, which include those raised by Governor Schwarzenegger of California:

- What criteria will determine mission success? Who will determine when success has been achieved?

- Does the federal government intend to cover 100 percent of the cost of this mission, including all of the additional logistical support?

- What criteria will determine the disengagement of National Guard forces for this mission?

- Who determines the specific role of National Guard forces, the Governor as Commander in Chief under Title 32 or the Federal Department of Defense under Title 10? If National Guardsmen in Title 32 are taking their direction from Federal agencies, are they really under the control of the Governor?

- What if Federal and State governments disagree? How will they resolve it?

- If the plan doesn't work who takes the political blame, the President or the Governor?

- Finally, will we apply a similar solution to our equally porous border with Canada?

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