Arizona guardsmen officially join borderpolicing operations.
NOGALES — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Friday justified the deployment of National Guard troops to help tackle a “recent surge” in the number of migrant apprehensions along the U.S.Mexico border.
But, he was unable to answer how that surge has played out at the Arizona border, even as he welcomed the first wave of troops to the area.
“These are national news reports,” he said, citing statistics from the Department of Homeland Security. “It’s a 200 percent surge year over year, March 2017 to 2018. And a 37 percent increase from February to March.”
But when pressed about apprehension numbers specific to the Arizona border, the governor punted the question to Rodolfo Karisch, the chief agent for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector.
“We have seen spikes throughout the Southwest border. I think March was one of the increases; we saw a tremendous number of apprehensions go up, here and in other places,” Karisch said. “The Rio Grande Valley down in South Texas is probably the highest, but Tucson sector is a close second in the apprehensions.”
In Arizona, the number of migrant apprehensions has been on the rise after bottoming out last April following President Donald Trump’s inauguration. However, those numbers are still below 2016 levels in the Tucson sector, which covers Pima, Santa Cruz and Cochise counties.
But whether or not the specific situation on the Arizona border constitutes a crisis, Karisch said the Border Patrol would take any additional support from the National Guard to help the agents carry out their work.
Trump called for the deployment of troops to the border in response to the increase in Border Patrol apprehensions, one of the most reliable measures in migration patterns. But the year-to-year comparison doesn’t reflect that apprehensions in 2017 dropped significantly, to historic lows. Since then, the number of migrant apprehensions have largely returned to pre-Trump levels.
Still, Ducey mobilized 338 National Guard members this week as part of Operation Guardian Support. But it took several days to begin deploying them to the border, amid administrative hurdles and training.
Before his arrival in Nogales, Ducey met with National Guard troops at one of their facilities in Marana, just north of Tucson. The base is used as a forward deployment base for the 338 services members mobilized this week.
The first group of about 60 Guard members arrived to Nogales on Friday. But it remained unclear how long it would take for the remaining troops to deploy to their assignments along other parts of the Arizona borderlands.
Service members will be placed in supportive roles, sometimes as far north as Tucson, to help free up Border Patrol agents to spend more time in the field. Some of those roles include road and fleet maintenance, operating video surveillance systems, and air patrols.
But even as details emerged about their assignments, local leaders in border communities questioned why Guard members weren’t being used to staff the ports of entry. Arizona faces a severe shortage of customs officers, straining current employees and resulting in longer wait times to cross the border. The problem has become so great that CBP officials in Washington have made hiring for Arizona’s ports a priority this year.
Karisch said he recognized the importance of lawful trade and travel through the border, and that Arizona CBP officials were working on a plan to have Guard members also help out at the ports of entry later on.
“They are going there, I assure you that,” he said. “We are working into a phased approach on this. We’re looking initially at some resources between the ports of entry, but we are also going to bring some of those resources ... to support the ports of entry as well.”
Ducey also said Friday that he didn’t feel the deployment of the National Guard would affect Arizona’s relationship with Mexico, and in particular Sonora.
Ducey challenged criticisms the deployment of Guard troops would result in further militarizing the border.
“There is no militarization of the border,” he said. “The National Guard is here in support of the Border Patrol, and it is the Border Patrol who is in the law enforcement position.”