PHOENIX (AP) - President Barack Obama's plan to send as many as
1,200 National Guard troops to the US-Mexico border appears to be a
scaled-down version of the border security approach championed by
The 6,000 troops who were sent by President George W. Bush to
the border from June 2006 to July 2008 were generally credited
within law enforcement circles as having helped improve border
security, but restrictions placed on the soldiers were denounced by
advocates for tougher enforcement who are now leveling similar
objections at Obama's plan.
Some law enforcement officials along the border said they worry
that Obama will repeat Bush's mistake by limiting the troops to
support roles, such as conducting surveillance and installing
lighting, rather than letting them make arrests and confront
smugglers. They also believe the scale of the force - one-fifth of
the size of the one sent by Bush - is too small to make a
difference along the length of the 2,000-mile border.
Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever, whose jurisdiction includes
about 80 miles of the Arizona-Mexico border, said 1,200 soldiers
might make a difference in a smaller portion of the border. "But
if you spread it across the border, it's like spitting into the
wind," Dever said.
Under the Obama plan, the troops will work on intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance support, analysis and training, and
support efforts to block drug trafficking. They will temporarily
supplement border patrol agents until Customs and Border Protection
can recruit and train additional officers and agents to serve on
the border. Obama also will request $500 million for border
protection and law enforcement activities.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat who has
prosecuted rings of drug and immigrant smugglers, said the planned
deployment was a good first step, but believes that the president's
plan should evolve to include more troops and more authority for
"I'll take what we can get," Goddard said. "Again, I don't
think this is the final response."
The Mexican government issued a statement saying it hoped the
troops would be used to fight drug cartels and not enforce
immigration laws. Mexico has traditionally objected to the use of
the military to control illegal immigration.
When Bush sent the National Guard to the border, the troops
performed support duties that tie up immigration agents, who then
had more time to arrest illegal immigrants.
The troops under the Bush deployment didn't perform significant
law enforcement duties. They installed vehicle barriers, operated
remote cameras, repaired vehicles, worked as radio dispatchers and
performed other duties. Troops who manned mobile observation towers
had used binoculars to search for and report border breaches.
The effect of the troops was felt by the smugglers and would-be
border-crossers during 2006 in Palomas, Mexico, a smuggling hub
south of the village of Columbus, N.M., where a buildup of border
agents, surveillance cameras, vehicle barriers and troops were
credited with reducing smuggling traffic.
Vendors in Palomas reported a significant drop in the number of
backpacks they sold to border-crossers for carrying their food,
water and clothing in during their walk into the United States.
"There are not many people because of the soldiers that were put
on the border," vendor Elisco Hernandez Gonzalez told The
Associated Press two months after the Guard was sent to the border.
Republican state Sen. Russell Pearce of Arizona, the author of
the state's new immigration law, said he fears Obama will repeat
Bush's mistake in not giving the troops the power to confront
violent smugglers and other armed criminals along the border.
Pearce was disturbed by an incident in 2007 where National Guard
troops backed off and called in federal agents as gunmen approached
their post near the Arizona-Mexico border.
While supporters of the decision said the Guard members did as
they were supposed to, Pearce questioned the point of having troops
on the border if they can't confront such dangers. "It was a
welcome-wagon role last time," Pearce said. "They weren't allowed
to do anything."
T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a
union representing 17,000 agents, said he doesn't see the broad
outlines of the Obama plan as a solution to border violence.
"People shouldn't be surprised if the violence continues,"
Bonner said. "They shouldn't expect that the announcement of up to
1,200 National Guard members will send a shock wave of fear in the
cartels and that they will start playing nice."
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, a major in the Arizona Army
National Guard who served as a commander in Yuma, Ariz., during the
2006 deployment, said Obama's plan is welcome news that will help
confront border security weaknesses, but it doesn't go far enough.
Babeu, who wasn't speaking on behalf of the National Guard, said
the visible presence of armed soldiers is an effective deterrent
for illegal immigration. "They're not given law enforcement
authority, but the fact that they're there, keeping watch, 24/7,
has proven to be the most effective solution for border security,"