Instead of flinging jillions of our scarce dollars to drastically expand the civilian Border Patrol, as the Senate's immigration reform bill would do, we – and especially our Congress - should take a lesson from most other countries in the world with "hot" borders.
Our border security with Mexico should be a fully integrated mission of the U.S. Army. Specifically, it should be made-up of combined – and rotated – Army National Guard and Reserve forces, primarily from the border-states, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, and others as necessary.
This approach offers several strategic advantages over our more recent approaches to border security with Mexico.
- It takes advantage of the strategic location of the forces and many usable bases already in the region.
- It allows for the "real mission" rotation of troops, consistent with other "Big Army" training and deployment requirements.
- It furnishes a plan and mission for the continued utilization of Guard and Reserve forces in critical counterterror and counternarcotics roles, i.e., so we don't lose these important capabilities with the traditional and often painful "draw downs" of our regular Army forces.
- The Army border force concept fits neatly into the post 9/11 established NORTHCOM as a key part of the overall integrated defense of the United States.
- The legal, policy and structural issues associated with a new Army Guard and Reserve intensive "Southwest Border Command" are straightforward and easily addressable in comprehensive authorizing legislation and enabling Executive Orders, DOD Instructions, etc.
Such an approach would represent a modern strategic shift for our border security with Mexico from just "dealing with it" and "controlling" illegal immigration to effectively preventing it with a classic, more European-style border security mission. In fact, dedicated border security forces in many European countries are part of the Army and available for wartime missions as well.
In sum, the idea not only works, it makes very good strategic and cost effective sense for us. Congress should think seriously about this approach as part of "real" and comprehensive immigration reform, because an equal part thereof is "real" border security for the southwest. And, if it's time we finally get serious about our border security, it's a natural mission for our Army.
Daniel Gallington is the senior policy and program adviser at the George C. Marshall Institute in Arlington, Va. He served in senior national security policy positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of Justice, and as bipartisan general counsel for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
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