Editor's note: With National Guard troops being deployed to the U.S. border with Mexico this week, the Daily Sun asked a group of engaged citizens – none is an elected official or a declared candidate – to answer a set of questions. Following are their answers:
#1 Based on the president’s statements, are there sufficient reasons to justify the deployment of National Guard troops at the border?
Luis Fernandez: Absolutely not. As a criminologist, I know that border crossing arrests are at historic lows. Given that fact, having the National Guard at the border is mostly theater to try to motivate voters to feel afraid.
Patrick Payne: The reasons to deploy our Troops are more than justified regardless of any statement by any elected official. Years ago President Wilson sent General Pershing and his troops on the identical mission so it’s too late to be a new and improved policy. But nonetheless, today it is certainly an improved policy.
Harriet Young: Clearly there is a reason to try to interdict drugs that pour into the US as we learn of our serious drug problem. I think it is more likely another one of his diversion tactics to divert media from his problems with payoffs to sex workers. Actual immigration, legal and illegal, is down significantly though the raging unrest in Central America will continue to uproot people from their home countries.
Donald Young: More than enough reasons. This bus caravan that is approaching our border must be prevented from crossing into the United States. Human traffickers, drug smugglers and those “non-criminals” entering the country illegally, must be stopped. As I have said many times before, a nation without borders is not a sovereign nation.
Ann Heitland: Sadly, at this point, we should not base any government actions on the "president's statements" since he apparently makes up facts as he goes along. We know there are not sufficient reasons to spend a few million dollars on this deployment.
Joy Staveley: There are certainly sufficient reasons to send law enforcement officers to the border, but I’m not sure it makes sense to send the National Guard unless Congress amends the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. See my response to question #2 below.
Carl and Holly Taylor: There is no "border crisis". Illegal crossings are at record lows - certainly not justifying spending billions on a futile wall system or causing great hardship to the families and employers of National Guard troops sent south to support a political agenda on the part of Donald Trump (and apparently Doug Ducey). We recently returned from Puerto Penasco, Sonora, through Sonoyta and had to wait a very long time to cross back into the U.S. On Easter week, only one lane of four was open and it was manned by a single person in the U.S. customs booth. This despite seeing a Border Patrol vehicle every ten minutes north of the border all the way to the huge compound for these folks built near Ajo. Our unjustified antipathy towards Mexico is palpable!
#2 Once they are deployed, what roles do you think troops should or shouldn’t play at the border and for how long?
Fernandez: They should not be there and should play no role.
Payne: The role of those Troops is to prevent illegal entry into our Country, which in reality has become an invasion. For how long? Until the bleeding stops.
H. Young: As has happened in the past, by assisting the border immigration authorities with processing people who seek sanctuary, it serves to make the process faster and less traumatic on refugees and immigrants.
D. Young: Apparently, under conditions set forth by President Trump, the troops are there to assist and protect those Border Patrol Agents defending our borders. The troops should stay until the wall is built. If I were President, I would give the troops the authority to seize the illegals, put them in humane compounds, and prepare them for deportation. Never again “catch and release” as was done in the prior administration.
Heitland: Intelligence? Emergency medical assistance. The deployment should end as soon as possible because it's a waste of money.
Staveley: The problem with deploying the National Guard Troops to the border, as I understand it, is that the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 prohibits the military from acting in a law enforcement role on American soil. if they cannot engage or apprehend suspects, they cannot be effective. What we need at the border are people who have the authority to apprehend people crossing our borders illegally and actually enforcing the law. Congress could amend the 1878 Act giving the National Guard troops the authority to apprehend and enforce the law. If Congress did that, deploying the Guard to our borders would make sense.
The Taylors: If they are there at all, we suggest that they be used for humanitarian purposes. Aiding and rescuing refugees trying to cross the extremely difficult terrain of the Sonoran desert would be useful, after which there would be the lawful process by which the B.P. determines the appropriate individual status and immigration-related action needed. There is no practical need for National Guard troops. If deployed, an individual soldier should not have this duty longer than 3 months - one time.
#3 From the standpoint of public safety in border communities, how should drug smuggling be addressed compared with, say, immigrants seeking asylum at the border?
Fernandez: The problem is that the National Guard are not trained for public safety. That is, National Guard follow military procedures developed for war. Thus, to say that they are deployed for public safety is misleading and confuses the purpose of military units with policing forces.
Payne: I feel the two go hand in glove. Hard to have one without the other.
H. Young: There are at least three sources of our border “problem”: violence in Central America, the shift in agricultural sustainability across Mexico, and the drug problem in America. As long as the US buys an enormous amount of illegal drugs, ignores violence in Central America caused by drug lords, and shifts cheap American corn to Mexico, we will face the border problems forever.
D. Young: Who is to say that the immigrants wanting to cross our border illegally are not drug smugglers, previously deported felons, or other criminal types? Those immigrants entering the country illegally must be deported and if they want to immigrate to the United States, they must follow the normal rules and regulations for legal immigration into the United States.
Heitland: More illegal drugs originate in the United States and in shipments to ports of entry that are not at the Mexican border than come in from Mexico. This Trump Show does nothing about that. It's my understanding that most drug smuggling from Mexico comes across at border checkpoints so we should be strengthening Immigration and Customs at those points -- as well as at other ports of entry -- with better equipment, dogs, and more personnel. That, of course, could prove unpopular because closer scrutiny will slow traffic. People crossing illegally through deserts and not going to be carrying drugs - that's not their reason for coming; they are escaping desperate situations.
Staveley: Drug smuggling should take priority, but immigrants trying to cross our borders illegally must also be dealt with. We must know who the people are seeking entry to our country. Entry must be legally accomplished.
The Taylors: In Arizona, there is a very effective collaboration in place between ICE, Border Patrol, The BLM, the U.S. Park Service and local county and city law enforcement. Providing additional resources and equipment to this program would be far more effective for drug interdiction than adding military troops. A significant point of entry for drugs is 60 miles north of the border from the Tohono O'odam Reservation into the Ironwood National Monument. Money spent addressing the causes of the addictions in the U.S. would be more productive than building border walls. Border communities have no responsibility for our national problem, and it seems that there is little relationship between immigration issues and drug trafficking.
#4 How important is border security in comprehensive immigration reform?
Fernandez: These are entirely different issues that should be dealt separately. Unfortunately, they are often conflated as politicians play on radicalized fears to motivate some of their voters.
Payne: Very important. By reducing the flow of illegals we will reduce the number of true immigrants potentially disturbed by any reform while at the same time allowing our enforcement agencies some well-deserved breathing room.
H. Young: The causes of border insecurity are the result of specific policies of the US government and the drug problem in the US. Congress has ignored the crazy quilt of US immigration policy for decades. I suspect there will be no change in the policy until there is a significant change in the electoral pattern in US congressional districts. Immigration wins votes across much of the interior of the country where there is the usual fear of strangers and difference among a fairly homogeneous population, but has little to do with what is actually going on at the southern border. Oddly, Texas is the state most indifferent to border issues as their relationship with Mexico has been historically quite open and unfettered.
D. Young: Border security is an integral part of any comprehensive immigration reform. Our immigration problem cannot be solved piecemeal. We should only admit those who will benefit our national needs. We cannot afford to have an open border philosophy. The Dreamers must be included in any comprehensive immigration reform program. We are a nation of laws and those laws include our immigration laws. One cannot pick and choose what laws to obey.
Heitland: It should be looked at rationally as part of the overall picture. We have needed comprehensive immigration reform for decades and we don't get it because Republicans have found that demagoguing the issue wins elections for them. We need immigration to keep our economy on an even keel.
Staveley: It is critical to include secure borders in any comprehensive immigration reform program. Without secure borders we will never solve the problem. President Reagan offered amnesty with the understanding that Congress would secure the borders. Reagan kept his part of the bargain, but Congress did not keep their promise. As a result, millions more immigrants have entered our country illegally. If we don’t secure the borders, this illegal entry will continue.
The Taylors: It is our understanding that the vast majority of illegal people in this country arrive with legal visas and then overstay or go underground. Very few people would choose to cross hundreds of miles of hot sand and cactus - heavily patrolled along the U.S. border. We seem to have very straightforward guidelines for immigration and how to become a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Providing robust support for existing laws and procedures, rather than political posturing about "dangerous people" coming across our southern border seems like the most effective thing to do.