Border move is a wasteful political stunt

By Joe Katz and Ryan Vass

With the Iraq war entering its fourth year, our armed forces are stretched to the breaking point, our ranks are growing weary, and our morale is at an all-time low. We are maintaining our troop commitments at strategic bases throughout the world, currently stationing 17,000 troops in Afghanistan, and are continuing to rotate soldiers away from frontline service to preserve their spirits. The only man in the Pentagon who seems to have confidence in the state of the military these days is Donald Rumsfeld.

This is why Bush’s recent decision to mobilize 6,000 National Guard troops in order to patrol the U.S.–Mexican border is beyond mind-boggling. Quite frankly it is nothing but a drop in the bucket. The government claims that these additional troops will greatly bolster the Border Patrol’s ability to perform its functions. But how much difference can 6,000 additional men and women make in securing a 2,000-mile long border? The idea that any substantive effect on national efforts at “traffic prevention” will be made by the use of National Guardsmen in this fashion is a ridiculous proposition.

The installation of 6,000 trained combatants along the endless desert frontier is nothing but a political stunt in advance of midterm elections. President Bush’s conservative base has been alienated by his position in the illegal immigration debate just as popular anger over the festering Iraqi quagmire, rising gas prices, a stalled economy, incompetent disaster relief, and a dismissive attitude toward civil liberties has forced him to cater to that base more than ever. These meaningless reinforcements are nothing more than an attempt to build his support back up by “getting tough” on illegal immigrants. As he has done so frequently in the past, Bush is playing the American people for fools by emphasizing attention-grabbing buzz phrases like “militarizing the border” over actual substance. While American soldiers desperately wait for relief in Baghdad, their commander-in-chief is throwing three bodies per mile at a non-issue to prevent the GOP from losing the Senate.

Perhaps even more important than the misuse of the armed forces for electoral gain is the statement that such a move makes to the countless illegal immigrants who walk among us. We witnessed here in Chicago on May 1 just how much of a role “illegals” play in our economy. They are vital in manufacturing, retail, and service industries. They are working their way up through the ranks, the living embodiment of the American dream. The message we send to these immigrants by using the same military might against them that we are bringing against al Qaeda is disgraceful and smacks of jingoism. We cannot fall back on the nativist disrespect for immigrants that led to last fall’s riots throughout France.

We have nothing to gain from this foolish troop commitment and everything to lose. Until this point, every immigrant was treated as an American, and for this reason our country continues to supply its factories and shops with a motivated labor force. We are incurring two risks with this action.

By so insultingly marginalizing Latinos, we could exacerbate ethnic tension in a country already rife with it. Further, if this deployment is by some miracle successful in deterring illegal immigrants from crossing the border, we will have stemmed the flow of fresh, motivated laborers from the Southwest that has powered our economy for so many years. At a time when America and Americans are threatened by unseen and apparently unstoppable enemies, it is an unparalleled waste of energy.

Once again, the Bush Administration has chosen to address a serious national question with meaningless rhetoric aimed first and foremost at serving its own needs and with an action that is at best improvident and at worst detrimental to the interests of the nation. If this is the President’s idea of a solution, it is time for Americans to offer him some answers of their own at the voting booths.