Stepping up the immigration enforcement bidding war, House Republicans last week asked President Obama to extend the deployment of 1,200 National Guard troops on the U.S.-Mexico border past June 30, when their mission is slated to end.
Last year Congress passed a bill boosting the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents, but the 10 Republicans, all members of the Homeland Security Committee, said the new agents have not been fully hired and trained yet, so the National Guard troops should remain.
“We request the National Guard remain on the Southwest border until the Department of Homeland Security can fully take control of the mission and hire and train sufficient personnel to replace the 1,200 National Guard troops who have served honorably in this mission,” they said in their letter.
Led by Chairman Peter T. King of New York and border subcommittee Chairwoman Candice Miller of Michigan, the lawmakers also asked that the National Guard troops be allowed to go beyond just assisting enforcement and be allowed to fully perform more duties.
Even as spending and the military action in Libya dominate the headlines, immigration is heating up as an issue, with House Republicans, newly in control of their chamber, pushing for a boost in security and President Obama and his fellow Democrats looking for a broader legalization program for illegal immigrants.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, speaking at an event sponsored by progressive think tank NDN, cited the National Guard’s presence on the border as part of Mr. Obama’s commitment to enforcement, and said under the Obama administration the Southwest border is increasingly secure.
The former Arizona governor also fired back at critics who have charged the opposite is true.
“It is simply inaccurate to state, as too many have, that the border with Mexico is overrun or out of control. This statement, I think sometimes it’s made to score some political points, you know, but it’s wrong. It’s just plain wrong,” she said.
She said continuing to make those charges “disrespects the significant efforts of the law enforcement men and women we have put down on that border who work every day, day in and day out, to make sure that we do have a safe and secure border region.”
Alan Krieger, mayor of Yuma, a city on the border in the southwest corner of Arizona, said the questions about the security of the region do hurt, but they are based on false perceptions.
“I can’t afford to let the overriding message of ‘border wars’ simply rob us of an economic opportunity to create jobs,” he said. “Yuma, Arizona, is safe, secure and ready for business. And that rings true for a lot of other communities.”
By the same token, he also criticized the calls to boycott Arizona that came after the state Legislature passed its law cracking down on illegal immigrants last year.
The Republicans in their letter said the National Guard troops aided in apprehending 7,000 illegal immigrants and seizing 14,000 pounds of drugs on the border.
National Guard duties were mainly limited to surveillance and intelligence operations. Federal officials have been wary of letting them actually patrol the border, fearing it would signal an increased militarization.