The House of Representatives has passed a measure that would allow
U.S. troops to be permanently deployed along the United States border to
assist the Border Patrol in the interdiction of drugs and illegal
The bill authorizes the secretary of defense to “assign members of
the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps to assist” the Immigration
and Naturalization Service “in preventing the entry of terrorists and
drug traffickers into the United States.”
The measure also would permit the military to assist the U.S. Customs
Service “in the inspection of cargo, vehicles and aircraft at points of
entry” into the U.S. “to prevent the entry of weapons of mass
destruction, components” thereof, “prohibited narcotics or drugs, or
other terrorist or drug trafficking items.”
Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio
The bill, HR 628, passed 243-183 with 8 abstentions on May 18.
Sponsored by Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio, the measure was
introduced in February 1999.
If passed by the Senate and signed into law, the Traficant amendment would amend
Chapter 18 of Title 10, United States Code. Title 10 governs the use of American military forces and personnel and
already permits the use
of military personnel to operate equipment in support of domestic law
enforcement agencies, as well as the
training of civilian law enforcement personnel.
U.S. law currently prohibits, with exceptions,
participation” of U.S. military personnel in “search, seizure, arrest or
other similar activity unless participation in such activity by such
member is otherwise authorized by law.”
While there remains support for the deployment of U.S. military forces in a domestic border patrol capacity, not all officials who are engaged in border enforcement welcome the addition of American military personnel.
The National Border Patrol Council, the country’s largest Border Patrol union, is opposed to the Traficant provision because the organization does not believe U.S. troops are adequately trained for such a mission and because of past experiences with troops on the border.
While the Traficant provision would require that any military personnel deployed in a border-patrol capacity first receive training, the National Border Patrol Council, in a statement, said, “We all know that the training will last a few hours at most, in sharp contrast to the comprehensive 19-week training program that Border Patrol Agents must complete.”
Also, the Border Patrol union is worried that another incident like the death of 18-year-old Esequiel Hernandez, Jr., will occur. Hernandez was shot and killed by U.S. Marines near Redford, Texas, on May 20, 1997. Marines claimed the teen shot at them; they were later cleared, but the incident drew sufficient outcry to force the Pentagon to drop deployment of military forces along the border for the time being.
Supporters of the provision, however, point out that it specifically prohibits U.S. troops from conducting “a search, seizure or other similar law enforcement activity or to make an arrest,” in accordance with Posse Comitatus laws. It also requires the attorney general or secretary of the treasury to notify local officials and state governors when forces are being deployed in support of Border Patrol functions.
Controversy over the plan is as old as the bill itself. One year ago, in an
interview with WorldNetDaily, Gregory Nojeim, legislative counsel for the Washington, D.C., chapter of the ACLU, said the sum total of the new military roles in civilian law enforcement would eventually destroy “what was left” of the Posse Comitatus Act.
“These provisions … will blow a hole in Posse Comitatus large enough to drive a thousand tanks onto our city streets,” he said.
Nojeim said he is most concerned about language in the bill that gives much more arbitrary judgement on the potential conditions in which the military could be used in the hands of the secretary of defense, the attorney general and the secretary of the treasury.
“They’re trying to make it more of a routine thing to have the military involved in enforcing American civil law,” he added. “Imagine having troops on your streets and in your back yard for an undetermined amount of time for what could be an ambiguous reason.”
Tim Lynch, a spokesman for the libertarian think tank, the
Institute, said he believes it is a precursor to end the strict limitations on civilian law-enforcement use of military assets and personnel.
Last year, he said that while the provision had not yet been passed into law, he feared it was “a certainty” it would be. The fact that the measure passed the House last month bears out his concerns.
“Not too many people are talking about it, not many are objecting to it, and it looks like it’s just going to sail through,” he said. “That concerns us.”