- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The first of 6,000 National Guard troops President Bush wants to station on the southwest border will be deployed next month, assigned to fly helicopters to spot illegal aliens, lay sensors to detect their movement, and build roads and barriers to help the U.S. Border Patrol do its job.

“We’re trained, we’re ready to do this, and we’re able to do this,” said Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau.

But Mr. Bush’s border mobilization plan is being questioned by besieged state and local law-enforcement authorities battling rapidly escalating violence by heavily armed alien and drug smugglers.

Zapata County, Texas, Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez Jr., who helped create and served as the first president of the Texas Border Sheriffs’ Coalition, challenged Mr. Bush’s plan to use unarmed National Guard troops to monitor cameras, build roads and repair fences

“It is my understanding the troops will be used only to enhance the personnel of the Border Patrol by being able to monitor a new ‘technology fence,’ ” Sheriff Gonzalez said. “Who is going to respond to the burglar, thief, robber, rapist, murderer when the National Guard spots them in the act by satellite?

“It will have to be the local sheriff,” he said. “As to violent acts and threats against our officers and our communities, again, if the National Guard is not going to be directly on the border, we are back to square one.”

The proposal took a big hit yesterday when California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called it “a logistical nightmare and would be a poor use of forces trained for combat.”

The Republican governor was briefed on the plan yesterday and wrote a letter to President Bush praising the rest of his Monday night address on immigration, but questioning whether the administration even had thought through its National Guard plan.

“I have several questions that I would like to have answered before the California National Guard is committed to this mission,” the governor said.

Cochise County, Ariz., Sheriff Larry Dever, whose deputies patrol one of the nation’s most heavily traveled smuggling corridors, said that if Mr. Bush had stood up five years ago and offered the same proposal, it would have been “more readily received.”

“We have reached a national political threshold on illegal immigration, begging for the nuclear solution,” Sheriff Dever said. “I’ve been pleading for this kind of approach for seven years, at the beginning point.

“But anything short of a decisive blow now to put an end to this problem will not, in my opinion, satisfy the majority of the American public,” he said.

The Department of Homeland Security is supposed to deliver today a list of missions for which it would like help from the National Guard. The Defense Department will review the list and begin making mission assignments.

The Guard troops would remain under control of their respective states’ governors, but the costs would be covered by the federal government. Governors would be allowed to look to their own state contingents first, but if there aren’t enough qualified troops available, they could request troops from other states.

Guard members are expected to serve three weeks on the border, or a week longer than their usual two-week annual training commitment. By the second year, the force is supposed to drop to 3,000 as the Border Patrol graduates new agents to replace the Guard troops.

Sheriff Dever cited as a problem the need to continuously train the Guard troops who will be moved in and out of the border region. He said he was hopeful the federal government would work with local officials in implementing the plan.

“This is the best we’re going to get for the time being, so we’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” he said. “Any time the federal government launches an initiative, there are local consequences, and who better to anticipate those consequences than local officials?”

Santa Cruz County, Ariz., Sheriff Tony Estrada said that while protocols need to be worked out to determine how and where the Guard troops are going to be used, any increase in manpower was welcome.

“Obviously, there are challenges that need to be addressed and questions concerning their training that need to be answered, but putting more people on the border is a good and positive thing,” Sheriff Estrada said.

“A lot of people are coming through this county, and many are being victimized,” he said. “Maybe they can keep people from dying in the desert.”

The Border Patrol apprehended 1.15 million illegal aliens last year, more than 3,000 a day. More than half of them were apprehended in Arizona.

Rep. John Culberson, Texas Republican — who authored a House bill calling for $100 million to border sheriffs to hire, train, equip and deploy additional deputies — said the Bush plan recognizes the “severity of the problem along our border and the level of alarm it raises with the American people.”

But he said the decision to send 6,000 Guard troops to the border “is not likely to have any immediate impact on the situation, since they will be unarmed and play only supporting roles.”

Rep. Charlie Norwood, Georgia Republican, said the president should be “commended” for sending Guard troops to better secure the border, but he said the limited number of Guard troops “will not do enough to slow the flood of illegal aliens pouring into the country.”

“The specific proposal is too weak in terms of manpower and missions and will not secure our border,” he said.

Violence on the border by alien and drug smugglers continues to escalate despite recent efforts to increase the number of Border Patrol agents. It is fueled by a raging war between rival drug cartels over control of long-established cocaine- and marijuana-smuggling routes and a surge in profits from smuggling illegal aliens across the border.

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