Military Contribution to Border Security - Essay Example

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University of California, Santa Barbara
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Globalization means the population of the world is constantly at motion, and migration has become an everyday reality. A lot of this movement can be considered voluntary, like the surges after the Second World War or the migration that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union CITATION Gri09 \l 1033 (Griffard & Tussing, 2009). Disasters, whether economic or natural, also greatly influence the trends in human movement. Most of the time, such migration is in search of a better life; this kind of migration was recognized as a basic human right in UNs declaration of Human Rights in 1948 CITATION UN48 \l 1033 (UN, 1948).

Over the past few decades, the number of immigrants has increased at an unprecedented rate globally CITATION UN02 \l 1033 (UN, 2002). The number if still rising and this offers both opportunities and complications for governments. For instance, a lot of the migration is of young, skilled laborers from developing to the developed countries, a phenomenon called brain drain. But while this at face value benefits the receiving country and hurts the source countries, the uncontrolled influx of labor can lead to great stress on the existing social support infrastructure and increase tensions in the country. There is a strong case for the management of this movement, therefore. It has to happen at international, regional and national level. In fact, countries have not only the responsibility, but also the authority to control the movement of goods and people across their borders and through their territories. The failure to do this results in an opportunity for crimes like human trafficking, trans-national drug smuggling and terrorism, all of which pose direct and indirect threats to the stability of the people and the government CITATION Gri09 \l 1033 (Griffard & Tussing, 2009). The training that members of the military have affords them special skills which enable then not only to secure the borders but also to offer security response CITATION Gri09 \l 1033 (Griffard & Tussing, 2009).

The US borders

In the US, the secretary of the Department of homeland security is charged with the prevention of entry of terrorists, border security as well as the carrying out of immigration enforcement tasks. The US customs and border protection, which is a component of the department of homeland security, is tasked with the primary responsibility of securing the US borders CITATION Mas13 \l 1033 (Mason, 2013). It is the role of this organization to patrol and detect any illegal entry of aliens across almost 7,000 miles of border with Mexico and Canada, and about 2000 miles of coastal borders around Puerto Rico and Florida CITATION Had10 \l 1033 (Haddal, 2010).

In executing this mandate, the department of defense has a supportive role to the DHS, as well as to other state, federal and sometimes local law enforcement agencies. The Department of Defense has since the 80s conducted several anti-drug trafficking missions on the countrys borders as authorized by congress CITATION Mas13 \l 1033 (Mason, 2013). It is important to note, though that the Department of Defense does not have the direct responsibility of stopping terrorists from coming into the countrys borders. However, its supporting role in recent decades in the war on drugs appears to have raised the profile of the department CITATION DoD05 \l 1033 (DoD, 2005).

The law

The military does not have the direct mandate according to the law to patrol or protect the borders of the country or engage in immigration enforcement. In fact, according to the Posse Comitatus Act, any direct military involvement in law enforcement without proper statutory authorization might be against the law CITATION Mas13 \l 1033 (Mason, 2013). What the military can do, however, is to provide support. The military personnel that used for these support roles come from both active and reserve forces in the military and from the National Guard CITATION Mas13 \l 1033 (Mason, 2013).

The Posse Comitatus Act: Restrictions and authorization

The Posse Comitatus Act is the main restriction law against the use of the military in civilian law enforcement. It applies to the army and air force, and has also been further applied to the navy and the Marine Corps through various legislative additions. For instance 10 U.S.C. Section 375 requires the secretary of defense to promote regulations which forbid the participation of any member of the military forces: the army, navy, marines, air force or any other personnel in search, seizure, arrest or any such similar activity in the course of providing support for civilian activities CITATION Mas13 \l 1033 (Mason, 2013).

Further, DOD directives prohibit any such activities;

The interdiction of vehicles, aircraft, vessels or any similar activity

Search or seizure

Arrest, stop and frisk, apprehension or any similar activity

Using military personnel in pursuit of individuals or as undercover agents, interrogators, informants or investigators

Even though the regulations under the Posse Comitatus Act are widely accepted to not apply to members of the National Guard when they are not in federal service they are also subject to various restrictions. Except in exigent circumstances or when authorized, they cannot participate in the direct search, seizure or arrest practices or in the search of suspects CITATION Mas13 \l 1033 (Mason, 2013).


There are ways through which (restricted) military participation in law enforcement can be authorized. The Posses Comitatus Act does not apply in situations that are expressly authorized under the constitution. The constitution empowers congress to call forth the militia to enforce the law of the Union CITATION Mas13 \l 1033 (Mason, 2013). There is, however, no provision allowing the president to expressly authorize military action to execute the law CITATION Mas13 \l 1033 (Mason, 2013). Congress has generally done this in three ways;

Addressing certain circumstances with narrow legislation

Giving a branch of the armed forces some civilian law enforcement authority (like the coast guard)

Establishing general rules for some types of military assistance

Support and opposition

Proponents of the military involvement in civilian operations, at least at a limited level, often resort to a description of the strengths of military training and the capabilities they bring, both in terms of personnel and technology. For instance, the military has intelligence analysis capabilities and budget that can augment the efforts of much smaller agencies. Military intelligence staff has thorough training and experience, efforts which have greatly improved the predictive capabilities of local law enforcement agencies. The military possess aircraft and skilled individuals, who can both fly and maintain them. Without these assets, it would be impossible in some situations to man large areas or lengths of the border. They also have skilled engineers and technologies available to them that would enable then build improved border walls and roads for the civil authorities to operate along. Further, military personnel are important in the provision of observational support. The extra personnel provide extra eyes and ears in critical locations both on the ground and in the air CITATION Luo02 \l 1033 (Luoma, 2002).

The advantages of the military seem simple, but oddly, it is almost impossible to understand the role they play without looking into the narratives that are often used to oppose their participation in border control.

The first argument most opponents bring up is the Posse Comitatus Act. This Act has been amended many times, but it still only limits the use of the military in civilian acts, and does not expressly prohibit. Federal military forces can therefore do many things on the border which are not restricted under the act. There is also the National Guard, which can be mobilized under any one of three statutes. They can operate under the direction of a governor and perform state duty. They can also be mobilized under title 32, which is where they remain in command of the governor, but they are trained and funded by the federal government. They can also be mobilized under title 10, where legally, their duty is the same as that of active military personnel. When deployed under state duty or under title 32, the Posse Comitatus Act does not apply to the National Guard CITATION Car14 \l 1033 (Carafano, 2014).

But the fact that they have a legal basis for border patrol does not necessarily make it right or appropriate, at least not in the eyes of many. Another point raised by opponents of military use in the borders is that of finances. In the eyes of many, it is an ineffective border manning technique owing to the lack of cost-effectiveness; the funds should instead be directed towards other law enforcement agencies in order to strengthen their capabilities to man the border CITATION Luo02 \l 1033 (Luoma, 2002). This point of view posits that the military is a middle man; one that gets in the way of funding that would otherwise be helpful if channeled directly from the treasury to the law enforcement agencies CITATION Luo02 \l 1033 (Luoma, 2002). What this point of view fails to recognize, though, is that when the military is deployed for border patrol activities, its mandate is not to act as a standalone law enforcement agency. In fact, the law is such that this cannot happen. Instead, the military often provides shared support and services, especially considering these services and consequent deployment never happen on a consistent basis CITATION Luo02 \l 1033 (Luoma, 2002).

Further, while one can make a case for the transfer of funds to law enforcement agencies, it is difficult and ineffective to transfer these funds in some situations. For instance, surveillance services provided by the military might be useful to more than a single civilian law enforcement agency. Transferring the funds used for the military surveillance operations to the many law enforcement agencies that are being assisted might be difficult CITATION Luo02 \l 1033 (Luoma, 2002). Eventually, the smaller agencies that rely more heavily on the military would suffer more than the larger, relatively more capable agencies CITATION Luo02 \l 1033 (Luoma, 2002).

There is also overwhelming evidence to suggest that the agencies themselves continue to rely on military support and consider it important. At the beginning of every financial year, law enforcement organizations submit requests for personnel in order to support ongoing operations, especially drug related ones at the border, for the rest of the year. During the year, several smaller requests are made for similar reasons. According to military personnel, these requests normally surpass even the capability of the military in terms of border anti-drug trafficking resources, and constantly have to be declined CITATION Luo02 \l 1033 (Luoma, 2002). Furthermore, when the military risks losing funding that would foster more border patrols, it is these agencies that normally campaign the hardest making sure that funding continues to flow to these programs CITATION Luo02 \l 1033 (Luoma, 2002).

One of the traditional effectiveness debates has been with regards to the war on drugs. Even though the military has been deployed at the border, and at great cost, there has been little in the way of effectiveness as the drugs continue to stream into the country. The fault of this point of view is that it views military action as a service whose effectiveness should be measured through customer satisfaction CITATION Sch94 \l 1033 (Schnaubelt, 1994). The effectiveness of the military in supporting the drug war through border patrol is difficult to measure because of the supporting role it provides. The military cannot be t...

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