Washington Wednesday: Border security

MARY REICHARD, HOST: From member-supported WORLD Radio, this is The World and Everything in It for Wednesday the tenth of April. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

KENT COVINGTON, HOST: And I’m Kent Covington and today is Washington Wednesday.

National Guard troops have begun heading south after President Trump signed a memo last week sending the Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on Monday explained the mission to hundreds of  guardsmen from his state.

DUCEY: Your mission is to support the efforts of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and their efforts to secure the border and keep the communities on the border safe.

Combined, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas are sending about 1,600 guardsmen to the border. That’s less than half of what the president had asked for. But Texas Governor Greg Abbott says he plans to send additional troops and believes there will eventually be 4,000 supporting the Border Patrol.

California, which is the only border state with a Democratic governor, is the only holdout thus far. Governor Jerry Brown’s office says state officials are still reviewing the request for guardsmen. The law states that governors deploy and control the troops, while Washington foots the bill.

On ABC’s This Week, outgoing Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert pushed back against critics who say the deployment is unnecessary.

BOSSERT: A lot of the reporting tends to suggest that because we’ve seen record lows over the last 40 years on an annual basis that that’s good enough. We’ve got a leaking boat on our border, and we’re all quibbling with how much water is on the boat and how fast we’re bailing it out.

Bossert said a recent uptick in apprehensions at the border as well as a likely upcoming seasonal surge in crossings create the need for more manpower.

BOSSERT: What we’re seeing is a 200% increase this past month in apprehensions. It’s alarming, and we’re talking about apprehending over 50,000 people attempting to cross our border in one month. 

But the National Guard cannot carry out any arrests of migrants. Instead they’ll provide surveillance and logistical support to the Border Patrol.

President Trump says he wants to keep guardsmen at the border until a wall is constructed.

TRUMP: We need a wall. It’ll stop your drug flow, and it’ll stop a lot of people that we don’t want in this country from coming into our country, but right now, we’re putting the military and we’re putting the National Guard — We have strong borders now, but they’re going to be much stronger.

And Border Patrol El Paso Sector Chief Aaron Hull told reporters on Monday that the work has started with sections of new barriers taking the place of existing fencing. In the El Paso area, Hull says that’s a 20-mile wall to replace easily breached vehicle barriers.

HULL: It’s gonna be harder to get over, harder to get through, harder to get underneath. It’s gonna have a 5-foot anti-scaling plate at the top, which is gonna make it very hard for entrance even if you can get to the top to get over the top.

And joining us now for more insight into the National Guard deployment and the border wall is Victor Manjarrez. He is the Associate Director for the Center for Law and Human Behavior with the University of Texas-El Paso, which conducts research the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department. He is also a former Border Patrol agent.

Victor, let’s start with a brief history of when the Guard has worked with the Border Patrol and what that relationship has looked like.

VICTOR MANJARREZ, GUEST: Absolutely, the National Guard in the past has helped out in terms of surveillance platforms aerial support or they’re observing and calling in to kind of a base station reporting activity. Normally that’s been connected to a counter — a narcotics mission. They’ve been out in terms of running scope equipment, which is surveillance equipment. They’ve done a ton of transportation stuff where they’ll pick up detainees and move them from a point of arrest to the station, from the station to, let’s say, a detention station. A ton of work in garages where, you know, traditional  border patrol has not had a real strong cadre of non-officer positions like mechanics, administrative, and things of that nature. And so when you’re having issues, let’s say, with the vehicle fleet because you don’t have enough mechanics, there’s a tendency to pulling agents in to help. Well, you get the National Guard support doing those types of things. A lot of administrative help. They’ve been really helpful in the past.

Okay, let’s talk about the border wall. We know that what the president wants is a solid wall from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. What does the Border Patrol want?

MANJARREZ: Ya know, if you were to go to the Border Patrol Planning Logistics group, they’ve got plans for a wall in the most critical areas. And I would imagine at this point that’s anywhere in the neighborhood of about 150 to 170 miles. And, of course, that’s short of what the president is calling for, but if given the task — if they were to open up their planning books, they would have stages to say this is the first stage we’d like to have, here’s the second stage, and the third stage and so on and so forth.

Alright, so what kind of barrier is the Border Patrol and law enforcement asking for? Do they want a solid concrete wall, a fence, or some combination, or what?

MANJARREZ: If you were to go out and ask agents on the ground they would probably utter, “We need a wall.” But we think of a wall, we think what we saw in those prototypes in San Diego, right? The 30-foot walls, things of that nature. And there’s certainly a call for that by agents on the ground. But as you speak to them more, it’s almost like a technological wall in these rural and remote areas they start to talk about the ability to have surveillance or situational awareness and you do that with some kind of surveillance capability. So how it’s being defined diverges a little bit from what the president is speaking about.

So where does that stand? The president got some wall funding — not nearly what he asked for, but some funds are in place. Where are they starting with all of this? What’s actually happening or about to happen?

MANJARREZ: Well, the funding they do have are, my understanding, there’s some replacement fence going in in San Diego and in the El Paso area, replacing a vehicle barrier to a pedestrian vehicle which makes a ton of sense when they’re going to place that. So you’ll see sections like that, you’ll get pieces of it. I am happy to hear, given my background, the areas they’re looking for, they make sense.

Victor, the president also recentely decried the practice of what’s known as “catch and release.” His administration is trying to address that. Outgoing Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert said this week that the president issued a memorandum directing his cabinet to not catch and release, but to catch and detain. Explain what “catch and release” means — what is that and why is it a challenge?

MANJARREZ: Well, catch and release is a term, actually, that I first heard in the late 80s as a young Border Patrol agent in San Diego. And at that time we had a lot of El Salvadoran nationals coming up on the temporary protected status — TPS. There was a series of earthquakes and civil war and things of that nature — came up and they would surrender. You would catch them, process them, but since there wasn’t any detention space, you’d release them into the United States with a promise that they would show up at their immigration hearing in about 6 months. Well, the history they’ll tell you is about 60-65 percent of those people never show up. And the calls are going back south into Mexico, Central America saying, look, they’re not holding us. Before this ends, send up the rest of the family. And you saw even recently, the people not showing up is almost 70 percent of those people arrested. It’s a problem.

How do you fix that problem?

MANJARREZ: Well, the Obama administration put some funds into holding people and as soon as they did that, I think it was in 2013, 2014, they did that for about a 9 month period and the spigot almost turned off because the messages are really fast. I mean, it’s quicker than Twitter and Facebook it seems like is that message gets back and says, hey, don’t come back because they’re holding you. And then second, though, is the sending countries, we know who they are, we know what parts they are, I think we’ve got to be working longterm with those governments to really focus in those areas to say what can we do to mitigate them from even sending people.

Victor, as the president talks about his hopes and plans to secure the border, what is he missing — if he called you up tomorrow and asked for your advice on how to make the border more secure, what would you tell him?

MANJARREZ: I’d tell him to forget about a physical wall on the entire border. I would say listen to your operators, get the surveillance capabilities. There’s a call for agents, but it’s not a big increase. It’s actually just to replace the retirees, but if he called today, I would say, “Mr. President, invest in surveillance capabilities.”

Okay, Victor thanks again for your time and your insight. We appreciate it!

MANJARREZ: You’re welcome, sir. You take care now.

(AP Photo/Matt York) A Customs and Border Patrol agent patrols the international border Tuesday, April 10, 2018 in Nogales, Ariz. 

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