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Bringing in Guard Raises Concerns Of Militarization

Two men walk in the riverbed of the Rio Grande in Juarez, Mexico, as they wait for an opportunity to cross into the United States.
Two men walk in the riverbed of the Rio Grande in Juarez, Mexico, as they wait for an opportunity to cross into the United States. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)

"We could very quickly ramp up and double the effort if the funding was available," said a National Guard counter-drug official at the National Guard Bureau who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the new policy was not finalized. "You are using the same techniques to find illegal drug traffickers or to find a person."

The Counterdrug Task Force operates four RC-26 aircraft and 15 to 20 OH-58 helicopters equipped with infrared radars and high-powered lights that can photograph and track movements of vehicles and people crossing the border.

The task force also uses military ground sensors to detect people coming over the border and gamma ray imagers to inspect vehicles and cargo. Guard engineers have helped build roads and fences. The task force also assists with intelligence analysis such as reviewing license plates and phone call records, tracks money laundering, and provides Spanish-speaking military linguists who translate recordings and documents.

About 10,000 Border Patrol agents are deployed along the U.S.-Mexico border, and patrol hours climbed about 167 percent between 1997 and 2005. But there is no clear link between staffing and arrests, or between arrests and a reduction in the flow of illegal immigration, analysts say.

Estimates of how many agents are needed vary. In 1999, one estimate given the House projected that 16,000 were needed on the southern border. In 2004, Congress authorized the hiring of 10,000 more and is slowly funding them.

But in Laredo, although some officials agreed on the need for more border forces, they voiced fear that military deployment could send the wrong message.

"It's showing your teeth before you reach out your hand," said the president of Texas A&M International University here, Ray Keck. Keck said federal officials do not understand the interdependence of U.S. border cities and their Mexican counterparts, noting that 10 percent of his university's students are Mexican nationals.

The Mexican consul in Laredo, Daniel Hernandez Joseph, said he welcomed proposals to increase border security. But he said that deploying the National Guard would "not be seen as a friendly act."

"Do they understand that every Hispanic is not illegal?" Hernandez said of the National Guard. "The Border Patrol has that training."

Tyson reported from Washington. Staff writer Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.

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