Details emerge on border-bound guardsmen
WASHINGTON — National Guard troops will head to the U.S.-Mexico border Aug. 1 for a yearlong deployment to keep a lookout for illegal border crossers and smugglers and help in criminal investigations, federal officials said Monday.
The troops will be armed but may use their weapons only to protect themselves, Gen. Craig McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said at a Pentagon news conference. The troops will undergo initial training and be fully deployed along the nearly 2,000-mile southern border by September.
The announcement provides details on how the government will implement President Barack Obama’s May decision to bolster border security and comes as drug-related violence has escalated in Mexico. It also comes as the U.S. debate over illegal immigration has intensified in an election year.
“The border is more secure and more resourced than it has ever been, but there is more to be done,” said Alan Bersin, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.
The 1,200 troops will be distributed among four border states, with Arizona getting 524, Texas 250, California 224 and New Mexico 72. Another 130 would be assigned to a national liaison office.
Bersin also said the Homeland Security Department will provide six more aircraft, including helicopters, to the border. He said at least 300 Customs and Border Protection agents and inspection officers would be sent to the Tucson area, along with mobile surveillance vans and additional technology.
U.S. Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick and Gabrielle Giffords, both Arizona Democrats, separately called the announced actions welcome but insufficient.
“This is the kind of action we want from the administration — not suing the state,” Kirkpatrick said, referring to the Department of Justice’s challenge to the new Arizona immigration enforcement law.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry criticized the troops as “grossly insufficient” for the Texas border in a letter to the administration last week.
President George W. Bush deployed 6,000 National Guard troops to the border in June 2006, also a midterm election year.
McKinley said even though the four border states are contributing 54,000 troops to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they still have a sizable number available for other deployments or disaster response. More can be deployed at state cost if governors wish, but the 1,200 are being paid for by the federal government, he said.
“Right now, I cannot see a case where we would be overextending the National Guard for this effort,” he said.