Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees, North America

Reform Groups Slam “Militarisation” of U.S.-Mexico Border

Eli Clifton

WASHINGTON, May 27 2010 (IPS) - President Barack Obama will be sending 1,200 National Guard troops to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border after pressure from both Republicans and Democrats to tighten border security and increase funding to combat the flow of illegal drugs into the U.S.

The announcement made Tuesday comes after Arizona announced strict new laws allowing police officers to stop and question anyone who they believe might be in the U.S. illegally – a law that many critics say would encourage racial profiling.

Obama has spoken out against the new law but with midterm elections coming up in the fall, the White House has been eager to curb criticisms that the Democratic Party is lax on national security and immigration.

Critics of the deployment of National Guard personnel to the U.S.-Mexico border charge that the new policy is one more step in the wrong direction in an unwinnable war on drugs and further evidence of an immigration system in need of reform.

“This is no substitute for genuine reform to our broken immigration system or to our insufficient civilian law enforcement capacity in border zones,” said George Withers, senior fellow for security policy at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

“It is ironic that the administration is turning to the military on our side of the border at a time when Mexico’s government has actually begun pulling troops out of cities like Ciudad Juarez, after realising that militarisation doesn’t work,” Withers concluded.

WOLA has also called for clarification on whether the National Guard troops will be deployed under the authority of ‘Title 10’ or ‘Title 32’ of the U.S. Code, the law that governs the U.S.

“This distinction is important. Under Title 10, the deployment would constitute the use of a federalised military force in a contravention of the important legal concept of Posse Comitatus, a law which prohibits a U.S. military role in domestic law enforcement activities. Alternatively, under Title 32, state governors have the prerogative to use the National Guard for state requirements,” read a statement from WOLA.

The Immigration Policy Centre blasted the National Guard deployment as fiscally irresponsible.

“For more than two decades, the U.S. government has tried without success to stamp out unauthorised immigration through enforcement efforts at the border and in the interior of the country without fundamentally reforming the broken immigration system that spurs unauthorised immigration in the first place,” said a statement from the group.

“Ironically, while billions upon billions of dollars have been poured into enforcement, the number of unauthorised immigrants in the United States has increased dramatically,” it noted.

The announcement of the National Guard deployment was accompanied by news that the White House would request 500 million dollars to fund additional resources to strengthen the U.S.-Mexico border. Some senators have requested as much as two billion dollars.

The decision to deploy the National Guard to the U.S.’s southern border came after Obama met on Tuesday with Republican senators who asked for troops to be deployed to the four states – California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas – which share borders with Mexico.

The National Guard will be deployed to the border states for one year but their arrival date has not been announced.

Their mission will include supporting law enforcement officers by monitoring activity between border crossing checkpoints and analysing trafficking patterns.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who is facing a competitive election in the fall, made the announcement on Tuesday that National Guard would be deployed to the border.

“The White House is doing the right thing,” said Giffords in a press release on Tuesday. “Arizonans know that more boots on the ground means a safer and more secure border. Washington heard our message.”

“The fulfillment of my request is a clear sign that this administration is beginning to take border security seriously,” she said.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, who has been attacked by his Republican primary opponent for being soft on immigration, welcomed the announcement but said that at least 6,000 troops were needed.

“”The fact that President Obama announced today that he will only be sending one-fifth of the troops we believe are required is a weak start and does not demonstrate an understanding of the current situation in the region,” said McCain and colleague Sen. Jon Kyl in a joint statement.

“This morning, we proposed an amendment to fully fund 6,000 National Guard troops to be immediately deployed to the southwest border and call on the president to support our amendment,” they continued.

The murder of an Arizona rancher in March, which law enforcement officials have suggested was committed by someone involved in smuggling, led to calls for the National Guard to be deployed on the border and the passage of a new immigration law in Arizona giving police the power to detain anybody suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.

The governors of New Mexico, Arizona and Texas requested the presence of National Guard troops on their southern borders.

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