- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2006

When President Bush announced he would send 6,000 National Guard troops to the southern border, we applauded the move, but knew that it was more a symbolic gesture than an actual solution to the crisis. Our concerns deepened after it became known that the Guard troops wouldn’t actually be, well, guarding the border. Rather, they would placed in more administrative positions, presumably to free up Border Patrol agents to patrol the field. Now, it looks like even that benign gesture may be doing more harm than good.

As Jerry Seper reported Thursday, Border Patrol agents, instead of being free to guard the border, are having to guard the Guard. “Several veteran Border Patrol agents in Arizona told The Washington Times they were issued standing orders to be within five minutes of National Guard troops along the border and that Border Patrol units were pulled from other regions to protect Guard units — leaving their own areas short-handed,” Mr. Seper reported.

In a word, this is crazy. Border Patrol agents are referring to their new duties as “nanny patrol,” and that seems about right to us. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman tried to sugarcoat the comedy show that has become the southern border, saying “It makes sense that agents would be nearby the National Guard members who are there to be our eyes and ears.” Except, of course, when the federal government forbids Guardsmen from bearing arms, it becomes less a question of supporting each other than protecting each other.

The administration has cited recent statistics showing a 45 percent drop in the apprehension of illegal aliens since the Guard was stationed on the border. But National Border Patrol Council President T.J. Bonner put these numbers in context. “There always is a significant seasonal decline in apprehensions at that time of year [May to July], generally about 30 percent,” he said. “This year’s decline was somewhat higher, about 45 percent, primarily because of the record-breaking heat in June and July, not the presence of the National Guard troops.”

But even if some of that 15-point difference is credited to the Guard, which remains nothing to get excited about, CBP Commissioner Ralph Basham said that the presence of 6,000 Guardsmen has freed up only 315 Border Patrol agents to move from administrative duties to the field. That’s hardly a reassuring trade-off.

There are a couple of ways to fix this mess. First, arm the Guardsmen on the border. It is idiotic and dangerous to send them to the border armed with just binoculars and a radio when drug dealers and smugglers regularly bring machine guns. Also, the Guardsmen should be on the border, not pushing pencils behind the lines. They should be plugging the gaps that Border Patrol doesn’t have the numbers to man.

Otherwise, all the administration has done is put 6,000 Guardsmen in harm’s way. They aren’t helping Border Patrol and they sure aren’t securing the border.

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