What will the National Guard do at the border? Jonathan asks below. Bush was quite clear about that:
The Guard will assist the Border Patrol by operating surveillance systems, … analyzing intelligence, … installing fences and vehicle barriers, … building patrol roads … and providing training. Guard units will not be involved in direct law enforcement activities.
I have no idea what training, in what, to whom, part-time citizen soldiers can provide usefully (is the Border Patrol weak on marching and saluting? Marksmanship? Tanks and artillery, perhaps…). But operating surveillance systems means watching a TV screen or a gate and calling someone if something happens, sort of like a security guard at the mall, so what the Guard will do is basically what Mexican immigrants do, especially physical labor at prices too low to attract Americans, especially construction labor in the sun and heat. Weekend Warrior field help; I wonder if they’ll shape up at streetcorners near the lumberyard. Anyway, this duty option is sure to hype Latino enlistments.
Bush has actually managed this issue fairly well, from his perspective; it appears Rove hasn’t been too distracted by his possible legal problems. The immigration issue presents a very perplexing challenge with very hard constraints. His wealthy base has to be assured that their pools and houses will be cleaned (and built) at the wages they find appropriate, by docile workers; a part of that base (agribusiness and hospitality, for example) needs similar assurance regarding their labor force. But his lumpen patriot base needs reassurance that the swarthy crowd of foreigners–and in our reptilian brain regions, aren’t Latins and Arabs basically the same Mediterranean menace: Italians with the Mafia, Arabs with dirty bombs, Hispanics running drugs, Jews getting your kid’s place in college and tithing to the ACLU; if you squint at them any fool can see they’re all the same and nothing but trouble for more than a century–will be met with forcible exclusion, which means guns.
John Tierney has it right this morning: it’s about providing a mental image of tough Americans in foxholes ready to blow away invaders with machine guns for people who don’t read past the headline, and a reality of a stable, hungry, non-voting labor force for upstanding citizens with a payroll to meet and lettuce to pick. Who knows, it might work.