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Militarizing the Border

Why Operation Jump Start Worries Me

by GREG MOSES

The Guard operation at the border has an air of legal peculiarity about it. Obviously it has been initiated by federal powers, but care has been taken to leave troops under command of the Governors, sort of. If the legal finesse of Operation Jump Start offers a vulnerability de-militarization activists can exploit, it also presents features worth worrying about.

Let’s not forget that the memo was released at the very end of the work week during the first week of the summer season. In Texas, it was distributed by the Governor’s office after five. And there has yet to be any public discussion of its wisdom. Doesn’t this sound too familiar?

A plain reading of the operation’s structure suggests that the Pentagon has vastly strengthened its hand in the conduct of domestic affairs. And citizens of the USA often express well-founded concerns that we would not want our military doing what it does best in the neighborhoods where we live. Military professionals also have a right to be nervous about the situation this makes for them.

On the level of pure formality, the Memorandum of Understanding indicates that Guard missions should be "requested by, coordinated with, and undertaken in support of the USCPB" (U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Department of Homeland Security.) But the initiative for Operation Jump Start seems to come from forces well beyond the control of USCPB.

For example, the missions are to be "pre-approved by the DoD (Department of Defense) and the Governor of the Supported State, and consistent with the implementing instructions communicated by the National Guard Bureau." It is then up to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau to "coordinate the provision of resources to the Supported States in furtherance of the border enforcement effort." In terms of policy direction, the paper trail of Operation Jump Start begins in an office of law enforcement, but it ends with "implementing instructions" mobilized by the Guard. In fact, before the DoD approves any "request", it will already have to be consistent with how the guard will implement it.

Thus, any Operation Jump Start mission formally "requested" by USCPB will activate a Pentagon line of power that goes from mission approval to mission deployment, flipping the switch toward a conduit of border affairs that runs from the President, through the Secretary of Defense, to the National Guard. This raises serious legal issues about the militarization of domestic law enforcement, and suggests why such a show had to be made about the roles of various Governors. But clearly, this operation was commenced with little display of pride or initiative from the Governors (even if it might give them what they secretly want this election year.)

Furthermore, in terms of formal bureau alignments, there is a mismatch beteen USCBP and DoD that further seems to weaken the actual power of the domestic bureau, because nowhere in the memo is the director of Homeland Security given the kind of formal power that falls into the hands of the Secretary of Defense.

Of course, one could argue that the Director of Homeland Security, although invisible in the memo, retains formal chain of command control over USCBP, but it is not the DHS director who has been assigned to produce the mission requests. Simply comparing levels of power between the formal partners of the memo (the Border Patrol and the Pentagon) the simple lines of the memo seem to strengthen the Pentagon’s muscle in border strategies.

And why shouldn’t this literal structure make us very nervous, given the obvious pattern of strategic muscle exercised by this particular Secretary of Defense? It is a question you may ask nearly anyone in the USA, since very few seem very nervous.

That the federal administration of the USA also represents an apex of corporate types and tokens reminds us as well that a huge border contract is about to enter the awarding phase. The literal structure of the memo gives the DoD some power to push a nose or two into that process of neo-liberal privatization (for which readers of the Texas Civil Rights Review are so far predicting a contract for Northrup Grumman.)

Thursday afternoon, the Texas Civil Rights Review filed records requests with the offices of Governor, Attorney General, and Texas National Guard in order to begin an archive of key documents pertaining to the militarization of the border, because the peculiar paper flow mandated by Operation Jump Start is well worth reading closely.

GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: gmosesx@prodigy.net.