NOGALES, ARIZ. (AP) - On her first visit to Arizona as Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano said Wednesday that requests to return the National Guard to duty along the U.S.-Mexico border are under review.
Arizona’s former governor said President Barack Obama wants to know what missions the guardsmen would perform before making a decision.
Napolitano was asked about restoring the National Guard’s border presence during a news conference announcing a $212 million renovation of the border inspection facility at Nogales and assistance for law enforcement agencies in their efforts to prevent a spillover of drug-cartel violence.
Govs. Rick Perry of Texas and Jan Brewer of Arizona have requested border troops.
“The president … really has asked questions particularly of the governor of Texas, who was the first one to request it, saying, `Where would they go, what missions would they perform?’” Napolitano said. “In other words, don’t just throw something like the National Guard at a place. They have a mission and a job to do.”
The Bush administration sent thousands of National Guard troops to the border to perform support duties in a mission called “Operation Jump Start” that began in 2006 and ended last year. It was intended to free up Border Patrol agents to focus on border security while new agents were hired. But since the troops pulled out, violence among Mexican cartels has exploded.
“When we did Jump Start here, it was to help us build the fence along this portion of the border. So that’s being looked at right now,” Napolitano said. “The National Guard issue, without being state-specific, is under consideration.”
Meanwhile, Arizona’s two Republican senators echoed the call for border troops Wednesday during a Phoenix-area luncheon sponsored by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Sen. John McCain said a National Guard presence on the border is urgently needed.
“I don’t envision it for an extended period of time, but right now, we need the Guard on the border because of this violence,” he said.
Sen. Jon Kyl added that the troops proved effective in assisting the Border Patrol and deterring immigrant- and drug-smuggling operations.
Mexico’s government is battling the drug cartels, which are also fighting each other for the most lucrative smuggling routes into the United States. More than 10,650 people have been killed in drug violence in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon sent out 45,000 troops in 2006 to directly confront the traffickers.
Associated Press writer Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix contributed to this report.