America's Third War: National Guard's New Mission

There are many theories on how to effectively secure the nearly 2,000-mile-long border the United States shares with Mexico.

Some believe building a fence to separate us from our southern neighbor is the best route while others think adding additional surveillance equipment and Border Patrol checkpoints will help decrease the number of illegal immigrants and drugs entering America.

One thing virtually everyone close to the border security issue can agree on: America seems to be waging a third war with the Mexican cartels that will stop at nothing to smuggle humans and drugs into our homeland and the national security threat it poses.

One of the more popular ideas on how to secure the region is through the deployment of troops and creation of a strong military presence along the border. In May, President Obama gave the green light for up to 1,200 National Guard troops to be assigned to the four southwest border states. In late September, armed troops started trickling in and working alongside U.S. Border Patrol agents, but the ramp up period is a gradual process since it takes a great deal of time to train the soldiers for their new mission.

According to the National Guard Bureau, nearly 1,200 troops are at work on border issues as of Monday: 263 in California, 561 in Arizona, 80 in New Mexico, 284 in Texas and 10 others assigned to border issues at the National Guard Bureau in Virginia. The deployment is expected to last one year although no official end date has been made public.

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The troops are primarily being used in a supportive role by assisting the army of Border Patrol agents already covering the miles of shared border and the 42 U.S.-Mexico crossings. Their jobs range from keeping a close eye on the border fence in search of people trying to cross illegally, to helping make apprehensions and completing paperwork. The mission is also designed to give Border Patrol some breathing room until it can hire more than 1,000 additional agents for the field.

Soldiers don't have the authority to detain a suspected illegal immigrant. They're essentially acting as extra eyes and ears for the agents and they’ve certainly got their work cut out for them when you consider close to 1 million illegal immigrants are estimated to attempt entry into the U.S. each year, according to Customs and Border Protection.

Since guardsmen have only been in place for a short time, it's difficult to gauge how much of an impact they're having. History shows that their sheer presence has served as a deterrent in the past. In 2006, President George W. Bush ordered thousands of National Guard troops to the border, as part of Operation Jump Start.

The program lasted two years and at its height, as many as 6,000 soldiers and airmen were deployed at one time. During that period, the number of illegal immigrant arrests went down roughly 24 percent and as much as 70 percent in some sectors of Arizona. During that mission, soldiers not only assisted Border Patrol agents, but also helped physically build parts of the border fence and additional infrastructure.

Many residents in southwest border states are grateful for the additional help and most feel the 1,200 troops are a nice start, but some living in border towns -- where violence is spilling over into their backyards -- say President Obama's administration could be doing more and devoting even more resources.

Sheriff Paul Babeu of Pinal County, Ariz., told Fox News he'd like to see a contingency of troops similar to Operation Jump Start. Babeu said Arizona needs even more help because the state faces unique challenges since the border there is more porous thanks to the rugged Sonoran desert.

Estimates say roughly half of all illegal immigrants entering the U.S. do so through Arizona, which is why Babeu is seeking more assistance. Babeu and U.S. Sen. John McCain have extended an invitation to Obama to visit the situation firsthand but the president has yet to make a trip. Babeu said far more than 1,200 troops will be needed to make a dent in the escalating war between the U.S. and the Mexican cartels.

For now, many residents are excited the ball appears to be rolling in the right direction. Most understand securing the border won't happen overnight, but hope it happens sooner than later.