Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 7, 2006

National Guard at the border: an update

Filed under: Border Security,Homeland Defense — by Christian Beckner on August 7, 2006

The New York Times reported over the weekend on the National Guard deployments to the U.S.-Mexico border, leaving an open question as to whether they are making an impact at the border:

The border may have a reputation for drama, intrigue and danger, but Specialist James Dwiggins of the Wisconsin National Guard has not seen much of that in the reception booth of the Border Patrol station here, where he works answering phones and sliding a clipboard for visitors to sign in.

From a camera room at the station, Specialist Kirsten Schultz of the Wisconsin Guard has seen a lot of people crossing the border. Out in the field, Specialist David Murray of the Virginia National Guard stares out at the loping hills lining the border, waiting and watching.

“I don’t see that we are having an impact,” said Specialist Murray, camped on a rainy afternoon at an observation point covered in camouflage netting with three other soldiers. “But every time the Border Patrol comes up, they tell us movement of people has almost completely stopped through here.”

For the National Guard troops sent here, many of the tasks in the border mission may seem humdrum, but the Border Patrol, eager for any help it can get, has claimed some early success as the operation moves into full swing.

The article later notes that only 3,000 of 6,600 people are “forward-deployed”, with the rest performing administrative tasks or being trained. And it answers my earlier question about where these folks would be housed:

…unlike normal deployments, the soldiers, at least for now, are largely camped in motels and hotels, ranging from the highly rated Loews Ventana Canyon resort near Tucson to the more modest Americana hotel in this city’s gritty downtown.

This is good news for hoteliers in Tucson, Yuma, Laredo, etc., but a bad deal for everyone else. Say an average hotel room costs $75/night for the people deployed. For 6,600 people @ 365 days/year, we’re talking about $180.7 million/year for hotel costs alone. Is this really the best way to spend money on border security…to say nothing of broader homeland security funding needs? (cf. the $93 million cut in the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office’s budget request.) The National Guard members who have been deployed to our border are doing a fine job at the task that they’ve been given, but with the exception of the construction teams, I still question the security value of this deployment.

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