Bush proposes thousands of Guard troops for Mexican border; raids and protests continue

From AP, May 13:

WASHINGTON – President Bush, trying to build momentum for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, is considering plans to shore up the Mexican border with National Guard troops paid for by the federal government, the Associated Press reported Friday, citing unnamed administration officials.

Military leaders reportedly think the number of troops required could range from 3,500 to 10,000, depending on the final plan.

The president is expected to discuss his plans in an address Monday at 8 p.m. It will be the first time he has used the Oval Office for a domestic policy speech – a gesture intended to underscore the importance he places on the divisive immigration issue.

The key questions Friday were how many National Guard troops might be deployed, for how long and at what cost to taxpayers – as well as the problem of possible disruption of upcoming deployments to Iraq and elsewhere overseas.

Texas Democratic Reps. Silvestre Reyes and Solomon Ortiz – both senior members of the House Armed Services Committee – sent a letter to Bush urging him to consider a number of issues before deploying the troops, including whether another mission is in the best interest of “our over-stretched military.”

As discussions among the White House, the Pentagon and the states continued on how the military could be used to secure the southern border, defense officials said states want the federal government to pick up what will be a significant tab for the increased security. Officials had no estimates on that cost.

Bush’s speech Monday night is intended to build support for broad immigration overhaul by taking substantive steps to secure the border.

“We need to beef up those (border) operations and the cost will be substantial,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in an interview. “People are just not going to accept comprehensive immigration reform unless they are assured the government is going to secure the border. People have lost confidence in the federal government because they simply haven’t addressed this in a dramatic and effective way.”

Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, asked officials earlier this week to offer options for the use of military resources and troops – particularly the National Guard – along the border with Mexico, according to defense officials familiar with the discussions.

Cornyn said state officials are also looking for more unmanned aircraft, ground sensors, surveillance cameras and military training to help with border patrols.

Defense officials said the National Guard may be used only until significant additions to the existing civilian border patrols can be fully funded and completed.

Currently there are about 100 National Guard troops involved in counter-drug operations, including some along the border, said Guard Bureau spokesman Jack Harrison. He said there are also between 10-15 Guard members – mostly engineers – helping border patrol agents with vehicle and heavy equipment support.

The discussions this week underscored the importance of the border and immigrations issues, yet were tentative enough to reflect worries about drawing the nation’s armed forces into a politically sensitive domestic role.

Responding to official Mexican fears with a textbook example of doublethink, White House counselor Dan Bartlett said the use of National Guard troops won’t be “a militarization of the borders.” (AP, May 15)

Now in what sense does sending thousands of National Guard troops to the border not constitute militarization? Another one from the words-mean-whatever-we-say-they-mean department. The blatancy with which one can get away with being disingenuous these days is pretty terrifying.

Meanwhile, the national mobilization for immigrants’ rights continues. Some recent developments from Immigration News Briefs, May 14:

A group of 12 day laborers marked the end of their 3,000-mile relay run across the country on May 5 with a press conference at New York’s City Hall, then ended a full day of events with a stop at a day laborer job center in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and a spiritual ceremony at Coney Island beach. The “Day Laborers Run for Peace, Justice and Dignity” began on March 4 in Santa Monica, California; it was sponsored by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) to bring a message of solidarity to the estimated 117,000 day laborers in the US, and to support calls for the legalization of undocumented immigrants. At day labor sites along the route, the 12 runners were greeted by other day laborers who ran segments of the relay, carrying a sacred Macehualli staff (Macehualli, in the Nahuatl language of indigenous Mexico, means one who builds a community). [Diario Hoy (NY) 5/6/06; Latin American Workers Project Press Release 5/5/06]

On May 10, two immigrant mothers who are fighting deportation began a hunger strike at Plaza Tenochtitlan in Chicago to demand that Bush call a moratorium on “raids, deportations and separations of families” until Congress comes to a resolution on immigration. Elvira Arellano was working at O’Hare airport when she was arrested in an ICE raid in December 2002; she then joined with other immigrants facing deportation to found Familia Latina Unida (United Latino Family) and is now the group’s president. The other hunger striker is Flor Crisostomo, who was one of nearly 1,200 employees of the IFCO Systems pallet company arrested in a nationwide ICE sweep last April 19. As of May 13, the hunger strike had been joined by two more activists. The hunger strikers plan to travel to Washington, DC on May 15 to press legislators for legalization and a moratorium on raids. [Press Bulletin 5/13/06 from La Familia Latina Unida, Centro Sin Fronteras and Chicago IFCO 26, forwarded by National Immigrant Solidarity Network]

Some victories are also reported:

On May 1, US District Judge Consuelo Marshall in Los Angeles ruled that the southern California city of Redondo Beach cannot arrest day laborers for standing on sidewalks. Marshall found the ordinance used to justify the arrests–which bars people from standing on public streets, sidewalks and curbs while soliciting work from passing motor vehicles–to be overly broad and unconstitutional. Judge Marshall had issued a temporary injunction on Dec. 13, 2004. “This is an important, full vindication for day laborers who seek only the right to fill jobs that willing employers are offering,” said San Francisco-based attorney Robert Rubin, who represented the workers. City Attorney Mike Webb said on May 2 that he was frustrated by the decision and planned to appeal, unless directed otherwise by the mayor or City Council. [Los Angeles Times 5/3/06]

And the raids continue…

Early on May 1, ICE agents arrested 36 women and 30 men at 15 locations in Union City, West New York and New York City. The raids came just hours after New Jersey State Police pulled over two vehicles carrying at least 10 Mexican women who worked in brothels in the Washington, DC area, said Kyle Hutchins, special agent in charge of the Newark ICE office. ICE believes some of the women may have been trafficked. All but two of those arrested were being held on immigration charges for being in the US illegally, Hutchins said. [AP 5/2/06]

On May 5, about 30 immigrant rights activists rallied in front of the federal immigration building in Miami to protest ongoing raids and mass deportations in South Florida. Immigration authorities deny carrying out “random sweeps” but said they have stepped up arrests of immigrants with prior deportation orders. The protest was led by Honduran Unity leader Jose Lagos, who charged that federal immigration authorities had deported at least six planeloads of immigrants from Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. ICE spokesperson Jamie Zuieback said ICE recently dispatched 11 planes with deported Hondurans aboard as part of a new initiative to quickly deport certain Central Americans caught attempting to enter the country illegally. [Miami Herald 5/6/06]

…including, bizarrely, at military bases:

During the week of May 1, ICE agents arrested three undocumented Mexican workers at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida, in response to a call from military personnel working at the base’s main gate. The three men were employed by a sub-contractor to do scaffolding work at the base. Two of them were booked on administrative immigration violations and were served with notices to appear before an immigration judge. The other had a fraudulent resident alien card with him; his case was handed over to the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida for criminal prosecution. [ICE 5/5/06]

See our last posts on the border crisis and the immigrants rights struggle.

See also our last posts on doublethink and the rhetorical device of words-mean-whatever-we-say-they-mean.