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Concerns about U.S. border security have gradually spiraled from what was originally considered a humanitarian issue, to security fears related to systematized crime, international terrorism, and paramilitary hostility. The growing threats pose new challenges to border security and reinforce the need to involve the military fully in border control and security. The intensifications in unlawful activities and illegal immigration have made some lawmakers call for a reappraisal of the level and mode of military support in border security.

Nevertheless, addressing the current border security crisis with military support might be viewed as a contradiction to the Posse Comitatus Act, which outlaws the internal deployment of the U.S. military forces to carry out civilian law enforcement duties unless explicitly authorized. The utilization of the military remains crucial in securing America's border, and agencies must exploit unique military capabilities to their utmost.

The Obama administration has faced accusations of lack of urgency in its effort to secure the border. As such, the implementation of border security should be a priority, and further delays would be unacceptable. The paper examines the military's role in curtailing the threat to U.S. border security.


The USA faces a growing threat from terrorist groups repositioning to Latin America, as well as homegrown groups originating therein. The persistent threat should be adequate to warrant alarm; moreover, violence against US law enforcement officials including Border Patrol has spiked at an alarming rate. America has been facing a growing set of dangers occasioned by the migration of gangs across the borders, organized criminal elements trafficking people and drugs across the USA, and the possibility of terrorists and terrorist devices trickling the USA borders to the south and north. As the severity and nature of the threat increases, the character that the U.S. adopts in its response ought to change (Mason, 2013).

The U.S. cherishes a tradition of separation between the military and the police. The outlined tradition has mainly assigned responsibility for safeguarding the citizenry from domestic, internal dangers to state, federal, and local law enforcement agencies. Nevertheless, in cases where terrorist and criminal activities amalgamate at the U.S. borders, such a distinction may not be feasible, which necessitates collaboration between the border patrol and the military (Tussing, 2008). No one can misjudge the necessity of this requirement, especially after the 9/11 attacks.

The U.S. military forces have continually provided support to civil authorities in addressing civil emergencies and natural disasters since the Truman period. The terminology employed to this function has varied over the years and encompasses military support to civil authorities, military aid, and military support of the civil defense. Various legal authorities for deploying the National Guard exist, but the exact scope of authorized activities and funds may differ with the authority exercises (Payan, 2006).

However, the DHS present direction towards reinforcing border security cannot solely be the final solution. Attempting to empower a sole federal agency with the capability to solve foreseeable challenges within the area of border control, border safety, and border security is both unfeasible and ill-advised. It is equally ill-advised to expect the military forces to continue filling the gap in the present capacity, whether in terms of active-duty forces or National Guard.

Problem Statement

Since 9/11, the USA has been facing an increasing threat from potential terrorists crossing the border, coupled with other challenges of illegal immigrants and drug smuggling. With these threats escalating in the last decade, it is essential to exploit the broad range of assets and options accessible to the U.S. government to neutralize or defeat the rising national security threat.


The growth in the size of agents patrolling U.S. borders has stagnated or slowed down since the 9/11 attacks and distress over illicit immigration supersedes fears of terrorist infiltration within the allocation of border resources. The 9/11 attacks accelerated present border programs directed at the prevention of border contraventions (physically), preemption (via routine screening), and deterrence. The establishment of a prevention-led border system would encompass four strategic shifts: forging a fresh foreign policy; matching border security with a global strategy; altering US reactive approaches; and, making progress on cooperation (Bach, 2005). Prevention remains a priority in addressing national security. The military strategy usually recognizes forward deployment of assets and power as fundamental tactics employed to dissuade opponents from undertaking aggressive actions and speedily interrupting them the moment they start (Payan, 2006).

In the four years consequent to the 9/11 attacks, the number of border patrol agents has modestly risen by 15% to reach over 21,000, which makes it the biggest federal law enforcement agency. Presently, the size of border patrols and border security remains at an all-time high; however, it is essential to appreciate that an increase in border patrol agents does not necessarily translate to border security (Tussing, 2008). The border patrol agents stood at around 21,444 in 2011 with the biggest growth witnessed during Bush's tenure when the number of border patrol agents increased from 9,800 to 20,000.

In the past, the US has commissioned commercially accessible mobile surveillance apparatus; thermal imaging apparatus, infrared and optical sensor towers, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and video surveillance devices. The US has constructed about 700 miles of fencing and set up surveillance systems along its border with Mexico, and deployed UAVs to monitor the remaining unfenced border. The US border defense operations are assigned to various agencies including the DHS, the DoD, as well as other Federal agencies, which work to increase security along with the border and counter threats to the US (Mason, 2013).

In 2010, technical difficulties compelled the government to freeze work on the Boeing-led Secure Border Initiated Network (SBInet). The project represented a planned 2,000-mile virtual fence featuring video cameras, towers, and radars intended to feed collections to Border Patrol agents and dispatchers. The DHS adopted a new approach in 2011, in which surveillance technologies qualify for certain regions based on aspects such as terrain, which replaced SBInet's one-size-fits-all strategy. The border security plan should be designed to meet the distinct needs of each border region, availing faster installation of technology, enhanced coverage, and efficient balance between capacity and cost (Bach, 2005).

U.S. Border Security

The U.S. Customs Service core responsibility centers on guaranteeing that all movement of cargo and passengers via ports of entry conforms to the federal law. The border Patrol agents play a crucial role in securing the borders against all threats including protection against terrorist infiltration. The US government has fallen short in developing effective measures for streamlining objectives on border security and appraising progress towards the objectives (Warner, 2010). The absence of sound measurement has left the Obama administration flaunting its efforts instead of their outcomes. As such, the debate has largely centered on politically-motivated speculation rather than a serious consideration of law enforcement needed and its cost.

The DHS has never concisely defined the meaning of border control in practice. A secure border does not necessarily mean one without illicit crossing since that would be unfeasible, especially one as open and big as the U.S. border (Warner, 2010). Similarly, borders in which aliens succeed are insecure, which necessitates the definition of a sensible middle ground in which border enforcement and related programs curtail the majority of illegal crossings and apprehend those that succeed (Mason, 2013). The variation in addressing the threat at the borders may affect the response towards border control (safeguard against the illicit entry of goods and people), border security (protection against terrorists), and border safety (protection against violence, criminals, and smuggling).

The US security officials contend that Canada is home to sleeper cells awaiting an opportunity to cross the border and launch an attack against the U.S. The border crossing from Canada has become a potential route for illegal immigrants, possible terrorists, and drug smugglers. A top U.S. border agent has highlighted that the northern border is the most possible point of entry into the USA for terrorists, which highlights the need to avoid complacency in shielding American people from the dangers posed by terrorists (Bach, 2005).

The evolving, overlapping threats of terrorism and organized crime, coupled with the challenge of illegal immigration across the borders, clearly show a hazardous and puzzling set of difficulties for state, federal, and local government officials (Payan, 2006). Some of the functions that typify DoD support in border protection relate to logistical and communication support, lending and operating sensor and detection systems, training, and helping in border-related intelligence analysis efforts. The DHS endeavors to strike a suitable balance of equipment, personnel, technology, communication, and tactical infrastructure. However, critics contend that DHS's present direction towards reinforcing border security does not qualify as a solution.

The Deployment of Military Assets in the Provision of Border Security

A state of dichotomy exists when it comes to attitudes towards the utilization of military forces in reinforcing border security. Nevertheless, border security missions encompassing the National Guard are a legally backed obligation, in which the National Guard is expected to support and synchronize with the Border Patrol and DHS. For instance, the U.S. Northern Command unit oversees DoD homeland defense activities and harmonizes defense support for civil authorities. The Northern Command provides deterrence and prevention against threats and hostility directed towards the USA territory and interests.

The National Guard enjoys the distinct capacity to work within three legal statuses making it the most adaptable military force accessible to the Federal Government for military assistance to civil authorities (MACA), homeland defense, and homeland security. The National Guard is mainly deployed within communities and integrated into the state, local, and regional emergency response networks. The National Guard carries out missions such as disaster relief, air sovereignty, and response to suspected weapons of mass destruction (Tussing, 2008).

The DoD provides civil support in response to national emergencies, as well as authorized law enforcement and other activities. Nevertheless, the DoD directive overseeing military support to civilian law enforcement agencies particularly bars the utilization of the military for interdiction, arrest, apprehension, search and seizure, stop and frisk, and the utilization of military personnel as informants, investigators, undercover agents, or interrogators (Warner, 2010).

The gravity of the challenge encountered at the borders and the urge to guarantee America's national security can justify the consolidation of resources, personnel, and funds across departmental boundaries, which necessitates coordination of initiatives across the spectrum of law enforcement and national defense (Bach, 2005). Although some bills seeking to award the military arrest, search, and seizure assignments along the border have come before Congress, such bills have never been successful.

Critics allege that immigration enforcement is a civil, rather than a military matter, and troops should not be consigned to the border. Some of the states along the U.S. southern border that have witnessed an escalation in illegal immigration and crime welcome the enhanced military role and have undertaken steps designed to procure additional military resources (Hughes, 2011).

Critics to increased military presence allege that enhanced presence of military support along the borders is potentially dangerous, undiplomatic, and further strains military resources (Brooks, 2005). Opponents to militarization contend that such policies politicize military operations and expose the military personnel to circumstances that they are not trained to resolve. Notwithstanding, the concerns over smugglers and aliens exploiting the porous southern border continue to rise, which implies that the military should play a much bigger and more direct role in border security.

Since 9/11, the homeland security infrastructure has embraced military support to civil authorities (MSCA) as a matter of department doctrine and policy within the context of homeland defense. Nevertheless, the core regulations and DoD internal directive, which govern MSCA, predate the post-9/11 world since they were adopted in 1993. MSCA is the most broadly recognized mode of DoD Civil Support since its main features support high-profile emergencies (man-made and natural) that usually invoke state emergency/Presidential or disaster declarations (Pickering & Weber, 2006).

The exploitation of military capabilities to reinforce federal, local and federal law enforcement is not essentially a new concept. Law enforcement agencies have for years requested military equipment, training, and personnel to assist, inform and refine policing tactics and address the shortages in an agency (Forest, 2007). The military does have general legislative authority that sanctions it to avail support to state, federal, and local law enforcement agencies within counter-terrorism and counterdrug efforts that might indirectly facilitate immigration control and border security assistance (Brooks, 2005). Direct military engagement in law enforcement activities devoid of proper statutory authorization might contradict the Posse Comitatus Act.

The Secretary of the DHS undertakes the responsibility of preventing the entry of terrorists, undertaking immigration enforcement functions, and securing the borders. The DoD function in executing the outlined responsibility lies in availing support to DHS and another state, federal and local law enforcement agencies when required. Since the 1980s, the DoD (National Guard), as sanctioned by Congress, has undertaken a broad range of counterdrug support missions along the U.S. borders.

Consequent to the 9/11 attacks, the scope of military support was broadened to encompass counterterrorism activities (Warner, 2010). Nevertheless, the DoD does not enjoy the authorized responsibility to prevent terrorists from coming across the borders, but its support functions within counterdrug and counterterrorism endeavors appear to have improved the Department's profile in border security.

The defense support for civil authorities (DSCA) is mainly viewed as a stopgap measure. Nevertheless, the threats of rising violence destabilizing Mexico and the potential of terrorists entering the U.S. through the borders generate situations that necessitate additional military support (Pickering & Weber, 2006). Law enforcement agencies should not view DoD assets as brief improvements to internal operations, but rather as a crucial security tool that can avail a force multiplier for domestic law enforcement (Tussing, 2008). The right integration of distinct capabilities, authorities, and deployment flexibility can avail the force multiplier required by the agencies in securing the borders.

Attempting to empower a single federal agency with the capacity to resolve foreseeable challenges is unfeasible and ill-advised. Anticipating the military forces to persist to stand in the gap within the present capacity remains ill-advised, whether in terms of the federal component (active-duty forces) or state militia (National Guard). The U.S. military can serve a crucial function in supporting efforts towards border security, border safety, and border control (Brooks, 2005). The National Guard remains the best tool for addressing the problem of border protection since it avails the platform from which to launch a graduated response, if and when needed.


The shifting nature of threats confronting U.S. border security demands a new structure to safeguard against illicit immigration, drug smuggling, and infiltration by terrorists. America requires a unified structure that will enhance protection against modern threats and be flexible enough to help meet the threats at the border. Success in the fight against terrorism, drug smuggling, and illegal immigration, and associated challenges of porous border demand interlocking strategies rooted in cooperation. Intra-agency, law enforcement, and military operations are by their nature intricate endeavors, which demand planning, resourcing, and thought.

The law enforcement agencies supported by the military forces should work synergistically to secure U.S. borders and oversee the flow of peoples and goods via the hundreds of ports of entry. Undoubtedly, the military presents special skills and equipment to the border security mission, but that support ought to be on a continuous, rather than a case-by-case basis, which requires that the DHS exploit a broad range of assets and options to neutralize or defeat increasing national security threats.

The DoD possesses personnel and equipment with critical skills necessary to augment civil authorities' endeavors to secure the U.S. border. Forming a partnership is central to DoD's fulfillment of its mandate to provide homeland defense and civil support missions. DoD priority efforts should rest on broadening unity of effort with local and state law enforcement agencies to ensure continuous delivery of DoDs missions.


  1. DHS Department of Border Security
  2. DoD Department of Defense
  3. DSCA Defense Support for Civil Authorities
  4. MSCA Military Support to Civil Authorities
  5. SBInet Secure Border Initiated Network
  6. The U.S. United States of America
  7. UAV Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

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