EL PASO, Texas - One thousand Texas National Guard members are about to assume their duties on the border but critics question whether their role is either too limited or broad.
Texas Governor Rick Perry called up 1000 troops to work with the Texas Department of Public Safety as a "force multiplier" after the Border Patrol struggled to cope with an influx of unaccompanied children from Central America.
"The notion is the National Guard is some sort of back up or force multiplier for DPS, that really only works if they can track people and also detain them and hold them for DPS," said Josiah Heyman director of the Center for Inter-American and Border Studies.
"It raises the question of whether the National Guard is adequately trained to summon up the reasonable suspicion," said Heyman. "Do they know the allowable facts? Will they act on racial profiling?"
Governor Perry could give Texas National Guard members arrest powers but so far has not done so. During the announcement of the deployment in mid-July he said troops would help DPS with law enforcement on the border.
"These additional resources will combat the brutal, Mexican cartels that are preying on our citizens," said Perry.
During the same press conference Adjutant General John Nichols gave a general description of the troops' role.
"We're planning on referring and deterring — so deterring them with physical presence and referring any people that we see that we think are illegal immigrants to DPS," said Nichols.
"You can't see somebody's immigration status stamped on their forehead," said Heyman. "You can't tell if somebody is an innocent person, just a kid with baggy pants or somebody who's a young member of a criminal organization," said Heyman.
Some with experience working with the National Guard on the border during past deployments were originally pleased with the return of troops.
"I was hopeful when I heard about the National Guardsmen that they would be put in places to relieve the Border Patrol from doing transportation duties, watching children in detention centers, and actually put those agents out in the field to do their duties," said Victor Manjarrez Jr., director of the National Center for Border Security and Immigration at the University of Texas El Paso.
Manjarrez, a former Border Patrol Station Chief, helped coordinate the National Guard on the Border in 2006 when President Bush deployed troops in a support role while the Border Patrol hired and trained thousands of new agents.
Among their duties: working at stables for horses used by mounted border agents, building vehicle barriers on the border, and surveillance that helped Border Patrol agents apprehend smugglers in the field.
But he questions the effectiveness of using military troops to deal with an influx of unaccompanied kids and families from Central America.
"To have additional surveillance capabilities on a group of people that are surrendering to begin with doesn't look like it's the best choice," said Manjarrez.