Martin Salvador Rocha, California State University, Long Beach
Recently we have been witness to rising anti-immigrant hysteria.
As a result, numerous legislative proposals have been made & laws
passed targeting immigrants namely, undocumented immigrants. Governor
Wilson of California has proposed the denial of citizenship to U.S.
born children of undocumented parents. California has recently passed
legislation that denies driver's licenses & id cards to undocumented
immigrants, & the list goes on.
Even the military has gotten into the picture. In November, for
example, Senator Barbara Boxer succeeded in passing her proposal for
National Guard deployment along the U.S.-Mexican border. This
signals an increased militarization of our borders with Mexico Rico,
a precedent setting trend that brings important Constitutional &
human rights questions into light.
This report will chronicle the border militarization trend in the
context of anti-immigrant backlash & discuss important questions of
what, if any, role the military should play on issues of immigration.
Historical Separation between Military & Civilian Law Enforcement
The separation of church & state is a fundamental doctrine of our
nation, & so too is the separation between military & civilian
duties. Unlike many other countries in the world whose police are
the military, the United States has historically maintained
maintained a civilian police force. Our constitution in fact put
limits on the role of the military, the Third Amendment set
conditions for housing of soldiers during time of peace or war. The
Fourth Amendment protects civilians from "unreasonable search &
Both these two & the eight other Amendments to the Constitution
encompass the Bill of Rights which were created to protect people
from the abuses of government & from inevitable encroachment on civil
liberties that any government eventually makes.
These amendments were written with the intent of protecting the
U.S. population from government repression, a lesson learned after
much suffering under British tyranny including the forced quartering
of British soldiers & their impunity to civilian law.
Other limits to the the military's role in domestic activities
were later written into law.
The earliest & most far-reaching was the Posse Comitatus Act of
the late 1800s which placed strict restrictions on the U.S. military
at a time when they were be ing repeatedly used during election
Militarization & Border History
The border has for most of this century been fairly free of direct
military conflict. Tom Barry in his new book on the U.S.-Mexicp
Considering that the U.S.-Mexico border was largely the creation
of the land grabbing Mexican-American War, the intl boundary has been
mostly free of direct military conflicts between the two, especially
since the 1920s.
The infamous 1 916 raid on Columbus, New Mexico, by Pancho Villa
marked the beginning of the only serious cross-border military
encounter with Mexican forces in the borderlands during this century.
General "Blackjack" Pershing's "punitive expeditionary force" of
twenty -thousand men spent more than a year in northern Mexico,
unsuccessfully hunting down the revolutionary bandit.
On the U.S. side of the border some hundred thousand federalized
National Guard troops kept order from Yuma Arizona to Brownsville,
Texas. By 1919 U.S. control over the region was clearly established.
With the creation of the Border Patrol in 1924, the United States had
the beginnings of a permanent civilian enforcement on the border. #1
For the most part, border control operations remained a civilian
law-enforcement operation until "Operation Wetback" in the 1950s.
This military-style operation by the Border Patrol & other elements
of the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS)# 2J was led by an
ex-general who participated in Pershing's expeditionary force. What
ensued was the most massive roundup & deportation of undocumented
Mexican immigrants in U.S. history. This was not the last time ex-
generals would be involved with the INS.
President Carter in response to concerns about undocumented
immigration & drug trafficking appointed another ex-general to head
the INS in efforts to strengthen the Border Patrol. Under the Reagan
& Bush administration this "concern" grew to to be called the "War on
Drugs" or what many would call the "War on Immigrants":
By the early 1980s the momentum toward an increased military
presence in the borderlands was unmistakable.
Dictated by the concerns of the Reagan & Bush administrations,
tighter immigration border controls emerged in response to mounting
fears about the spread of narcotics & to new anxieties about job loss
to "hordes" of immigrants from Central America & Mexico. As a
result, the United States has steadily expanded the role of military
& law enforcement agencies in the borderlands. Increasingly these
agencies have a common mission that draws on military means to carry
out law-enforcement tasks.
Using sophisticated communications & surveillance technology,
civilian & military forces from federal, state, & local levels have
tried to squeeze off the flow of illegal drugs & undocumented
immigrants into the United States.
Although only partially successful, the scope of this new military
presence sounds the alarm bells for concerned observers worried about
the impact of militarization on human & civil rights in the
A National Police Force?
In 1981 the U.S. Congress amended the Posse Comitatus Act
loosening the military's restriction on involvement with domestic law
enforcement. In 1986 President Reagan declared the narcotics trade a
"national security" threat & shortly thereafter launched "Operation
Alliance", a multi-agency law enforcement initiative targeting the
This along with the added designation of the border as a "High
Intensity Drug Trafficking Area" pushed this multi-agency effort
forward to represent the "...largest st, most ambitious interagency
actions of its kind ever attempted by the U.S. government. #4 Such
multi-agency forces allow for the relative ease of "cross-
deputizing." This refers to the now all too common practice of
Civilian law enforcement agencies like the Border Patrol, Drug
Enforcement Administrations, customs, & state police forces.cross-
designating (deputizing) personnel from other agencies, giving such
agents broad authority over a range of jurisdictions. Through cross-
designation, such agencies take the role of a national police force.
If "deputized" by customs, for example, agents can conduct
warrantless searches if they suspect that someone is entering the
United States illegally or with contraband.# 5 [emphasis added]
Although weakened, the Posse Comitatus Act still places
restrictions on the military assuming civilian law-enforcement roles.
However, a loophole exists for the National Guard.
The National Guard Loophole
Because the National Guard is both a state & Federal militia it
may be exempt from the limitations the Posse Comitatus Act when
acting under the authority of the governor.
That is, the Posse Comitatus Act does not apply to state militias.
The propos by Boxer takes advantage of this loophole by placing the
Guard's new immigration role under the auspices of the state
governor. The National Guard in addition to the Army & Marines have
taken a more prevalent role along the border. Using their high tech
equipment they carry out reconnaissance missions & other technical
border-control activities. In addition they provide much labor in
the inspection of cargo at the border, building & repairing fences &
metal walls along the border, etc. The National Guard in addition to
providing support for the Customs Service, the Drug Enforcement
Administration & other federal law agencies in the interception of
drugs, will now augment the border patrol in its campaign against
undocumented immigrant s. Drug & immigrant interception are new &
precedent setting roles for the National Guard whose traditional
missions have been to fight in wartime & help states during natural
disasters or civil disorders.
Responding to critics Boxer said the Guard would not carry out
arrests but only "augment & support" the Border Patrol's efforts & is
"modeled after the current counter-drug problem." #6. Boxer has
pointed to the policing presence of National Guard in Puerto Rico as
an example & in support of her own proposal.# 7
Excessive Force & Human Rights
The National Guard presence in Puerto Rico was also used by
Washington D.C.'s mayor recently in her request to place troops in
our nation's capital. Other cities are apparently following suit.
Jeff Kellogg, a city council member & current candidate for r mayor
of Long Beach, California, has requested the use of the National
Guard for to seemingly combat crime in this city which separate
Orange from Los Angeles County.
The success of such military missions in civilian areas are
suspect to say the least. Often crime is temporarily suspended
finding solace in other areas of town where the presence of these
military troops are not as readily found, as in the case of Puerto Rico.
Similarly, civil liberties & Constitutional rights also seem to be
suspended as these "Weekend Warriors" a term used to describe
National Guard recruits take on civilian roles that they have neither
been trained for nor envisioned to have such as those involving
Timothy Dunn, whose book on the militarization of the border will
be published next year sees the use of the military to combat
immigration as a dangerous precedent: R[Boxer] is trying to make
immigration look like a criminal act, undocumented immigration n is
not criminal, it is a minor misdemeanor. The seriousness of
undocumented immigration is in no way comparable to drugs, crime or
If they apply a hard crime mentality, they are more likely to
apply excessive force."#8 Indeed several recent reports from the
American Friends Service Committee & Human Rights Watch have
documented repeated violations of human rights against immigrants
along the U.S.-Mexican border perpetrated by the Border Patrol &
other U.S. government t personnel & an unprecedented impunity to
justice by those responsible.
The precedent-setting role that the military is now taking more &
more so over civilian matters is a dangerous one.
Our government has historically & intentionally kept its military
from performing civilian law enforcement duties. To change this
doctrine should automatically bring caution, especially in light of
the dire experiences other countries have had who have maintained a
military police force. The issue of immigration is both a sensitive
& complex one.
Soldiers who are trained for military combat are inherently poorly
suited to resolve such issues, nor should they. We have embarked on
a dangerous & far-reaching precedent at a time when anti-immigrant
hysteria is rampant. We have set on this path because we choose to
blame immigrants for much of our social & administrative
Immigration is not a criminal act, if so then we are all
criminals. Militarizing our land & making it into a police state
may provide for some short-term benefits, but at what cost?
#1 from Barry, T; Browne, H.; Sims, B. Crossing the Line:
Immigrants, Economic Integration, & Drug Enforcement on the U.S.
Mexican Border. Resource Center Press, Albuquerque, New Mxico; 1994.
p75. The Resource Center conducts research on U.S. government
policies, low intensity conflict, multinational corporations, & the
workings of private voluntary agencies in the Caribbean & Central
America. It distributes books & audio-visual materials on these
regions, & publishes its findings in a quarterly bulletin. It also
publishes a series on the border. Much of the discussion here draws
on their excellent work & that of Timothy Dunn author of the upcoming
The Militarization of the U.S. Mexican Border; 1978-1992; Low
Intensity Conflict Comes Home. Center for Mexican Amer Studies,
#2 The Border Patrol is part of the INS which in turn is part of
the Justice Department.
#3 Barry, T. p76
#4 ibid.; p78.
#5 ibid.; p81.
#6 as quoted in an Editorial of The San Diego Union-Tribune, Oct 27,
#7 In June the Governor of Puerto Rico sent in National Guard
troops to 27 of the island's housing projects in force to "fight
against crime." Troops are often stationed within the projects &
frequently detain & question those they consider "suspicious." In
October Mayor Kelly of Washington, D.C. was denied a similar request
to deploy the National Guard in the nation's capital.
#8 from a telephone interview on Friday , December 10, 1993.
Barry, T; Browne, H.; Sims, B. Crossing the Line: Immigrants,
Economic Integration, & Drug Enforcement on the U.S. Mexican Border.
Resource Center Press, Albuquerque, New Mxico; 1994.
Castaneda, R. Guardsmen Await Answers to Call-Up Question;
Soldiers Are Uncertain Of Duties If Mobilized. The Washington Post,
October 25, 1993; A1.
Dunn, Timothy. The Militarization of the U.S. Mexican Border;
1978-1992; Low Intensity Conflict Comes Home. Center for Mexican
American Studies, Austin TX (upcoming).
Dunn, Timothy. Telephone interview, December 10, 1993.
Harriston, K.A. Kelly Saw Risks of Troop Request, Aide Says;
Mayor Said to Have Chosen Guard as Quickest Way to Attack Crime. The
Washington Post, October 24, 1993; A1.
Harriston, K.A. Guard Plan Stirs Uproar In District; Mayor's Call
Raises Confusion Over Role, Concern About Image. The Washington
Post, October 23, 1993; A1.
JAMES BORNEMEIER. Boxer URGES AUGMENTED BORDER STAFF;
IMMIGRATION: SENATOR SAYS NATIONAL GUARD TROOPS WOULD BE A COST-
EFFECTIVE WAY TO BOLSTER PATROLS. THEY WOULD GET SPECIAL TRAINING BUT
WOULD NOT MAKE ARRESTS. Los Angeles Times, Friday, July 30, 1993;
Marcus, R. Clinton Rejects Call for Guard in D.C.; President Says
he Can't Grant Power. The Washington Post, October 26, 1993; A1.
Ribadeneira,D. Puerto Rico Employs Guard to Fight Drugs. The
Boston Globe Sunday, October 10, 1993, City Edition; A1.
Rohter, L. National Guard Joins Puerto Rico Police on Beat as
Crime Rises. New York Times, Friday, July 28, 1993; A10.
---The San Diego Union-Tribune, Editorial; October 27, 1993.
Sawyer, K. Reno: D.C. Request for Guard Under Review. The
Washington Post October 25, 1993, Monday, Final Edition A5
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