Project 21 New Visions

Jimmie L. Hollis

Threat of Mexican Drug Violence Likely to Lead to Use of U.S. Troops Along Southern Border


by Jimmie L. Hollis (bio)


There is a rising belief that Mexico is becoming a new drug war-era Columbia, and that our federal government should deploy the military along our southern border right now.

Experts believe conditions exist inside Mexico that mirror those found in Columbia prior to and during the reign of Pablo Escobar's infamous Medellin drug cartel.

In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations last September, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — our nation's highest-ranking diplomat — didn't mince words. She said: "It's looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago, where the narco-traffickers controlled certain parts of the country."

While drug-related violence along both sides of the border would warrant placing our military at our southern border, doing so raises a few questions.

For one, at what point do the conditions along the Mexican border warrant calling in the military? How would a military presence change the jobs of the U.S. Border Patrol and local law enforcement? Perhaps most important, how would the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 come into play if the military began helping with border security?

Progressive activists undoubtedly will in some way raise the issue of the Posse Comitatus Act with regard to any military deployment along the Mexican border.

While these activists are already largely opposed to border enforcement policies, they in particular fear that military involvement in the region will infringe civil rights and cause civilian harm. In 1997, they likely would argue, a Marine involved in anti-drug smuggling activities along the Texas-Mexico border shot and killed American teen Esquiel Hernandez, Jr. after the goat-herding Hernandez first fired his own rifle in the Marine's direction.

Literally meaning "the power of the country act," the Posse Comitatus Act was enacted in the 19th century after years of military involvement in maintaining domestic order during Reconstruction in the South and the settling of the American West. It was the will of Congress at that time to return the military to duties such as protecting the borders from foreign aggression rather than conducting what had largely become local law enforcement issues.

The Posse Comitatus Act is an act of Congress. It is not enshrined in the Constitution like the 3rd Amendment's prohibition of quartering troops in private homes in peacetime. Congress has passed many laws since 1878 that redefine its scope.

Specifically, Congress has approved the use of the military to aid in anti-drug efforts. Such "passive" support now allowed includes providing logistics, intelligence, training and other things unique to the military that assist local law enforcement. Execution of the law is still reserved to civilian authorities.

National Guard troops help with border enforcement right now. If the President and Congress ever decide to put our military forces on our border with Mexico on a grander scale, they first should sort out all the possibilities, dangers, consequences and legal strategies.

But given the acute political division of today, nothing is ever simple — not even a decision designed to protect the citizens and property of our nation.

Americans want a safe and effective border policy — not one that aids the cause of those who smuggle people, drugs and political upheaval into our nation. That's why America must come from a position of strength. That strategy likely requires a military role.

Sections of Mexico are caught in the grip of drug dealers, violent killers and thugs. This anarchy, which is close the U.S.-Mexico border in some cases, creates conditions favorable to the rise of a Mexican version of Pablo Escobar. We cannot put our heads in the sand by pretending this violence along our border will go away.

America must come to grips with this huge problem to our south — sooner rather than later.

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Jimmie L. Hollis is a member of the Project 21 black leadership network. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21, other Project 21 members, or the National Center for Public Policy Research, its board or staff.


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