JUST IN: DHS Sec. Nielsen: Pres. Trump to sign proclamation today to direct DHS, DoD work with states to deploy National Guard to the U.S. Mexico border. https://t.co/VTysacVH16 pic.twitter.com/5oMIeU0P57— ABC News (@ABC) April 4, 2018
But now that the guardsmen have arrived, their exact role, besides keeping watch on the brush, is not entirely clear.
The soldiers have undergone training in recent weeks in air and ground surveillance. During their shifts, they stand watch, usually from stations peering out over the river, or while joining Border Patrol units driving around the dusty expanses outside McAllen.
In their off-hours they take in their new surroundings from the gangways of hotels with cigarettes or cold beers in hand.
These soldiers are only the latest armed force coming to a region that has been militarized for years.
Dramatic funding increases over the past decade for Border Patrol agents and other security measures long ago transformed the area into what can feel like a heavily fortified zone. Perry in June launched “Operation Strong Safety,” an $18 million-per-month effort to boost the law enforcement presence near the border.
The National Guard deployment is part of that broader buildup, adding to a scene where soldiers in camouflage shuttle to and fro in unmarked but easily recognizable white vans while state police cars sit idling at nearly every highway intersection — beneath an ever-present white federal government blimp monitoring activities below.
Meanwhile, the number of border crossers has been on the decline in recent weeks, with the flow of unaccompanied minors slowing considerably.
They sat on the border, away from work and home and their own families, and really didn't do that much. It cost the state $18 million a month, and it probably cost Perry his job as governor. It was, by the end, extremely unpopular and extremely unproductive. The National Guard is subject to the Posse Comitatus Act just like the regular U.S military. Along a 2000 mile border, they won't add much.
Texas will have to foot the bill this time, too. With the Gulf Coast and Houston still recovering from Hurricane Harvey, and fighting still going on about the "rainy day fund" Texas has accumulated but Gov. Abbott won't spend on recovery (he's spent a paltry amount and think he done good), and the rising crisis of school funding (Texas school funding is so screwed up many wealthy districts will be declaring bankruptcy within two years), a new expense for the National Guard (the Lege won't be in session again until 2019, unless Abbott calls a special session. Not sure they want to authorize funds for the Guard without doing anything about school finance or hurricane recovery.) is not going to be all that politically appealing.
MORE: National Guard troops would not be allowed to carry out law enforcement duties like detaining migrants crossing the border illegally. https://t.co/m8a7G4tFM2 pic.twitter.com/Q1ic13BrTq— ABC News (@ABC) April 4, 2018
UPDATE: John Burnett answered my question on NPR this morning: in the past, the great value of the Guard has been to help with paperwork so Border Patrol agents can return to the field more quickly. So can't Congress authorize the hiring of more clerical workers, and leave the National Guard alone for more important work like, say, helping Puerto Rico recover?