WASHINGTON, D.C. – Advocates of providing a path to citizenship for most of the undocumented immigrants in the United States predict that the sending of National Guard forces to the border with Mexico increases prospects for abuse of the migrants’ rights.
“With troops on the border we will see an increase in violations of civil and human rights,” said Michele Waslin, director of research on immigration policy for the National Council of La Raza, the leading activist group working for Hispanic rights in the United States.
Waslin said that “immigration laws are very complex and soldiers have no training in complying with immigration laws; they are trained for war, not for this.”
The expert also thinks U.S. President George W. Bush’s plan “is not effective, because for years we have been trying to put more people and more resources on the border and it has not worked, because people keep coming and we need more far reaching reforms.”
On Monday night, in a nationally televised address, Bush announced the posting of thousands of National Guard troops to the border with Mexico, arguing that the measure will help secure the country and cut back the number of undocumented immigrants entering the country.
At the same time, Bush was expected to show his support for the kind of immigration reform being debated in the U.S. Senate, which would create a guest-worker program, legalize hundreds of thousands of undocumented aliens and boost border security.
“I don’t believe it appropriate for the President to send National Guard troops to the Mexican border,” said Eric Gutiérrez, attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF).
Gutiérrez warned that direct intervention of the National Guard to enforce immigration rules in U.S. borderstates is illegal because a federal law of 1878 bars the military from engaging in domestic police duties.
“Their training is not adequate for what they are going to do on the border. If members of the National Guard come directly from Iraq, what training will they have?” Gutiérrez asked.
Although he warned that “there is always the chance of abuses on the border when troops are stationed there,” the attorney said that MALDEF would find the National Guard’s presence acceptable if it is strictly limited to administrative duties as a backup for the Border Patrol.
Sean García of the Latin American Working Group (LAWG), a coalition that works for human rights in Washington’s policies toward the region, said there are already problems of people being abused by the U.S. Border Patrol.
“A military patrol would increase these violations tremendously,” he said.
The LAWG coalition and community groups on the border published a statement in which they recalled the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old goat herder, Ezequiel Hernández, during an anti-drug operation by the U.S. Marines along the Rio Grande in 1997.
The slaying of Hernández, whom the Marines claimed was aiming his rifle at them, set off a controversy that led the Pentagon to suspend its anti-drug operations on the border.
Hector Flores, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), said that because of such incidents his group “has always opposed putting troops on the border.” “We are very concerned that incidents like that can happen,” he said.
Nonetheless, Flores avoided rejecting Bush’s decision out of hand and said that LULAC will wait to find out “exactly what is going to happen and analyze it” in order to take a position.
“I’m from the border, from Laredo (Texas) and we know that at this time that would not necessarily be something terrible or negative,” he said.