Pentagon mulls options for US border security role
WASHINGTON, May 12 (Reuters) The Pentagon has begun exploring options for the potential use of troops and equipment to help secure the US border with Mexico, where hundreds of thousands of migrants enter the country illegally each year, a defense official said on Friday.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld discussed border issues at the Pentagon with his Mexican counterpart, Defense Minister Gen. Gerardo Clemente Ricardo Vega. Mexico and the United States share a 3,219 km border.
''The US and Mexican governments continue to work together to control the border and collaborate on these important efforts,'' said US Navy Lt Cmdr J D Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman.
''This cooperation includes limited US assistance with training, equipping and funding Mexico security forces so that they can better meet our shared challenges in protecting the border,'' he said.
Immigration has emerged as one of the top US political issues of 2006. President George W. Bush will address the nation on immigration reform on Monday as the Senate renews debate on a bill to tighten border security and give millions of illegal immigrants a way to legalize their status.
A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said the Defense Department is exploring options for possible use of troops or military assets to help with border security.
Another defense official said the possible use of troops or military equipment to assist with border security ''is not a decision that the Defense Department will make.'' That authority would be reserved for the president, as commander-in-chief.
''Border security, policing, is not the primary role or mission of the United States military,'' the official said.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said the Pentagon ought to be backing up the Department of Homeland Security along the border.
''We can and must do more to maximize military assets along the border until the DHS has adequate assets to ensure our border security,'' he said in a statement.
'INVASION' CITED Citing what some members called ''an invasion'' of illegal immigrants across the southern US border, the House of Representatives voted 252-171 yesterday to permit the Pentagon to assign forces to help in border protections.
Gordon noted that while the US Customs and Border Protection agency, under the Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for securing the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada, the US military performs a limited support role.
For example, military unmanned aerial vehicles have provided border surveillance.
He said any further military role would be temporary until more civilian border agents could be recruited and trained.
Gordon noted that border security is a civilian law enforcement function. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, enacted during the post-Civil War reconstruction period, prohibits federal military personnel from acting in a law enforcement capacity within the United States.
However, National Guard troops come under the command of state governors, who can deploy them for purposes such as border security.
The president also has the power to federalise these troops.
REUTERS PG PM0139