Mexico and the United States share a border that is nearly 2,000 miles long. California, with about 140 miles, has the fewest of the four U.S. border states.
To hear President Donald Trump tell it, the southern border is a dangerous place, at “a point of crisis,” marked by “lawlessness.”
To hear San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Jerry Sanders tell it, Trump’s rhetoric is what’s dangerous.
“Our border community, which has double fencing in many areas, is among the safest in the country,” Sanders wrote Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday. In his letter, Sanders rightly advised Brown the border region is “not a threat but an opportunity,” called it a “national model for collaboration and cross-border commerce resulting in a $2.5 billion manufacturing supply chain” and stressed that security along most of the border is “tighter than it has ever been.”
Trump has shown some pragmatism in his quest to build a border wall — second-guessing sections in remote and rugged places. But now he is asking southwestern states to send 2,000 to 4,000 National Guardsmen to secure a border he sees as porous.
Porous, of course, depends on your point of view. San Diego Border Patrol agents caught more people crossing illegally into the U.S. last month — 4,103 — than in any one month since early 2011, mirroring a national monthly spike and following a typical seasonal surge. Yet U.S. Customs and Border Protection says the number of people caught crossing illegally in fiscal year 2017 — 303,916 — was the lowest total since 1971 and that the figure was falling in the first six months of the fiscal year that began in October. That hardly suggests a need for the infantry.
Trump is not the first U.S. president to ask governors to use their authority to deploy the National Guard to the Mexican border. George W. Bush rotated 30,000 guardsmen to staff 6,000 positions in southwestern states from 2006 to 2008. And Barack Obama deployed 1,200 troops to the border in 2010.
In 2006, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger OK’d Bush’s first request for troops but rejected a second one, saying he needed the National Guard available for potential wildfires or earthquakes. That means a “no” by Brown, who on his own has stationed more than 50 National Guardsmen in support roles at the southwest border, wouldn’t be unprecedented.
Nor would it be more political than Trump’s request — or Bush’s or Obama’s. In 2010, The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board labeled Obama’s action “more politics than proper policy.” We wrote, “the arrival of those troops still won’t secure the border … because a 2,000-mile border can’t be completely secured as long as desperate people who will risk their lives to feed their families are willing to go under, over or around any impediment.”
That Republican governors in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico are deploying about 1,600 National Guard members doesn’t change that reality. Nor does Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ authorization late Friday to pay for up to 4,000 National Guard personnel at the border through September, especially given that they will only be backups as they are unable to arrest unauthorized immigrants.
In urging Brown to reject Trump’s request, Sanders called the deployment “a waste of taxpayer money and damaging to our economy and national security.” He also called it “a risk to national security as it deteriorates our bilateral relationship with Mexico.”
If you ask us, Brown should listen to Sanders. As a former police chief and popular Republican former mayor of a city with the world’s busiest border crossing, he knows what he’s talking about.