Terrorist threat renews push for military on border

By Suzanne Gamboa Associated Press Writer
Thursday September 27, 2001


WASHINGTON — The military, which ended armed patrols on the U.S.-Mexico border after a Marine fatally shot a West Texas teen-ager in 1997, could return under an amendment approved by the U.S. House. 

The amendment, authored by Rep. Jim Traficant, D-Ohio, was approved 242-173 late Tuesday. Similar amendments sponsored by Traficant have been approved by the House the past three years and then killed in the Senate. 

Some opponents say the same will happen this year. But the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have brought new scrutiny to immigration and border policies, and have some lawmakers rethinking border security. 

“If 300,000 illegal immigrants can gain access to America every year, trying to find a better life, do not doubt for one moment that a larger contingent of people with evil intentions could gain entry into America and continue to kill American citizens,” Traficant said during Tuesday’s debate. 

His spokesman Charles Straub said Wednesday that Traficant’s amendment is not a “knee-jerk reaction” to the attacks. Because of new concern about homeland security, the amendment this year “may resonate better with the Senate,” Straub said. 

The use of the military to guard the border became a flashpoint in 1997 when camouflaged Marines on a drug-fighting mission fatally shot 18-year-old Esequiel Hernandez Jr. in West Texas near the U.S.-Mexican border. 

Marines said Hernandez fired first, and were cleared of wrongdoing. 

Hernandez at the time carried an antique .22-caliber rifle. His death and the exoneration of the soldiers left the boy’s family and many on the border outraged. 

The military suspended its patrols after the shooting, and armed soldiers have not returned. The military has been on the border only to assist in construction, training or other unarmed capacities. 

Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, has opposed Traficant’s amendments each time they have emerged, writing letters to senators and conferees asking them to defeat the measure. This year will be no different, his office said, despite the terrorist attacks. 

He suggested spending some of the $40 billion Congress approved last week at the president’s request to hire immigration and customs inspectors, FBI, Border Patrol and drug agents and U.S. marshals. 

“Militarization of the border with soldiers unfamiliar with border situations and not trained to deal with them is an invitation to disaster,” said Reyes, a former Border Patrol chief. 

Opponents also argue using military on the borders violates the 1878 Posse Comitatus act prohibiting the military from performing civilian law enforcement functions. 

Traficant’s amendment would allow military to inspect cargo, vehicles and cargo at points of entry and to be accompanied by a law enforcement agent. 

The troops could be assigned only at the request of the attorney general or treasury secretary in coordination with the director of the new Homeland Security agency and the president.