Ever since President Trump said he was sending “the military” to the border to help stem the flow of illegal aliens coming in from Mexico, the media has been in a tizzy. Was it legal? Was it a good idea? Could they really do anything productive? And just what did he mean by “the military” anyway?
Now some of those questions have been answered and several hundred National Guard troops are on the job or at least on the way. But rather than asking the usual collection of talking heads on cable news or the reporters at the Washington Post, perhaps we should ask the people most directly impacted by the decision. Those would be the members of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) forces, more commonly referred to as the Border Patrol. They’re ones who will still have to make all the arrests and coordinate with CBP. Government Executive has the response from some of their representatives and agents this week and it turns out that they’re actually quite happy to see the troops arriving.
Federal agents on the front lines of the U.S.-Mexico border are “excited” about the forthcoming deployment of the National Guard to assist them in their mission, according to the employees’ union, with officials noting that the extra personnel will help offset their being “woefully understaffed.”
The guardsmen will serve in support and administrative positions, said Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, freeing up Border Patrol agents to go directly to the front lines. The National Guard can fill roles in a control room watching surveillance cameras, monitoring sensors, in skyboxes or scope trucks, Judd said, noting ideas that he has passed up the chain of command at Customs and Border Protection and drawing from his experiences during previous deployments.
“It frees up our resources and allows us to put more agents at the border instead of in support,” said Judd, who has served as a Border Patrol agent for 20 years. “The National Guard is going to be a huge boon especially considering how understaffed we are.”
I’ll confess that part of the response from the Border Patrol has me rethinking the question of using National Guard troops along the border. (Assuming that we have the whole Posse Comitatus thing sorted out, of course.) I originally wondered what the point of having troops on the border was if they couldn’t track down and detain illegal aliens coming in from Mexico. But while I knew the CBP had been asking for more resources, I didn’t realize how understaffed they actually are. Their representative reports that the Patrol is currently 2,000 agents short of its congressionally defined minimum and they’re just not finding enough qualified applicants to fill their ranks.
With that in mind, we’re being reminded that there are a lot of jobs to be done in order for CBP agents to actually nab incoming illegal aliens and the National Guard troops can fill those roles. They include watching surveillance cameras and sensors, keeping watch from roving mobile units or even performing routine administrative tasks back in the office. That frees up those agents to be out in the field making arrests.
Sadly, if we want a true, long-term solution, the CBP needs to find a way to recruit, train and deploy more qualified candidates. It’s not even a question of money because Congress has funded them above and beyond the level required for the number of agents they anticipated needing. If they want to attract more recruits for a frequently dangerous job in remote locations, new compensation packages and college training and recruitment programs should be considered.
But in the meantime, the National Guard seems to be receiving a warm welcome at CBP. Let’s see if they’ve learned any lessons from when Bush and Obama sent them in and how effective they are this time.