National Guard at border next week?

Published on Thu, Mar 7, 2002 by Meg Olson

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National Guard at border next week?

By Meg Olson

National Guard troops to help with local border security may be moving from rumor to reality. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and Customs representatives have confirmed that they are expecting National Guard reservists from units around the state to be at local borders late next week. All three border agencies will get some extra help; 16 guard members will work with customs, 29 with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and 14 with the Border Patrol, along with a helicopter.

“They will report to Fort Lewis in mid-March for a week of training and report to U.S. Customs March 15,” said customs information officer Cherise Miles. Most of the 16 National Guard soldiers assigned to customs in Washington will go to small ports in eastern Washington, where two inspectors have been stationed around the clock since September 11. “We have to staff the ports even when they’re closed to secure the border,” Miles said. On the graveyard shift when the port is closed, the National Guard will provide the second man in the port, limiting overtime and freeing up more inspectors to work when the port is open.

Two National Guard members will be assigned to Blaine to help with inspections, Miles said, but they wouldn’t replace inspectors. “There will always be a customs officer working with them,” she said. However, they would be trained in everything from bomb detection to inspection procedures to provide effective assistance to inspectors.

Ron Hays, INS chief of inspections for the Seattle district confirmed 29 National Guard members would work with the INS at Washington ports. Their role will be to help with “the inspection of vehicles entering the United States, provide a security presence at the border and perform traffic management and pedestrian control at larger ports,” Hays said. Their presence will free up inspectors for other duties and allow overtime to be reduced. As with customs, the INS will use the soldiers to assist, not replace, INS inspectors.

Hays said the call-up date for National Guard members working with the INS was March 4, and they were expected to be on the job March 13. He said the memorandum of agreement detailing the National Guard working with INS specifies that they will not be armed and will only stay on duty 179 days, or less if the INS can hire and train new inspectors before then.

According to information from Congressman Rick Larsen’s Bellingham office, two National Guard members will be assigned to Point Roberts. Hays said the agency would not release where the soldiers would be detailed for security reasons.

John Bates, deputy chief patrol agent with the Blaine sector border patrol, said the sector would be getting a helicopter and its 11 person crew for six-months. “They’ll fly over the border, looking for trails or signs of activity,” he said. “They will also be able to take some of our agents out and drop them in remote areas.” Three data analysts will also be detailed to the sector’s intelligence unit to help with data input. ..

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