Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Obama to send more National Guard troops to U.S.-Mexico border

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post staff writer
Tuesday, May 25, 2010; 4:10 PM

President Obama will deploy an additional 1,200 National Guard troops to the southern border and request $500 million in extra money for border security, according to an administration official. The decision comes as the White House is seeking Republican support for broad immigration reform this year.

The official said the new resources would provide "immediate enhancement" to the border even as the Obama administration continues to "work with Congress to fix our broken immigration system through comprehensive reform, which would provide lasting and dedicated resources by which to secure our borders and make our communities safer."

The 1,200 troops will join about 340 already working in the border region, the official said. They would provide support to law enforcement efforts against drug trafficking by increasing monitoring of border crossings and performing intelligence analysis.

The move by the president is a direct appeal to Republicans in Congress, who have argued that the federal government must get serious about securing the border before they will support broader changes to the system.

Arizona's two Republican senators -- John McCain and Jon Kyl -- asked Obama to send guard troops to the border in a letter last week. McCain announced Tuesday that he plans to introduce an amendment that would fund 6,000 troops on the southwest border.

"The violence has crossed the border and escalated to a point where many Arizonans do not feel safe within their own homes or on their own property," McCain and Kyl wrote last week. "It would be irresponsible not to do everything we can to stop the escalating violence along the border with Mexico."

Republican senators said Tuesday that they were underwhelmed by Obama's proposal. The president told GOP lawmakers during a visit to Capitol Hill on Tuesday that he was committing greater resources to border security than his predecessor, President George W. Bush, "but I don't think that's the point," said Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine). "The point is, how much do we need to get the job done?"

Upping the ante, Senate Republicans offered an amendment this afternoon to an emergency war spending bill to provide an additional $2 billion in border funding -- four times the size of Obama's proposal. The funds are aimed at improving security and stopping the flow of illegal immigration. "We need to regain the public's confidence and trust. It needs to be credible," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.).

Many conservatives favor construction of a massive border fence, something that Obama opposes. In an ad for his primary campaign, McCain said the government should finish "the danged fence," something he had called ineffective during his 2008 campaign for the presidency.

The idea of sending troops to the border is not unprecedented. In May 2006, in an address televised live from the Oval Office, then-president Bush called for the short-term deployment of up to 6,000 National Guard troops, though he said they would not be involved in direct law enforcement activities.

Called "Operation Jump Start," the troops were sent to the border for two years but have largely been pulled back.

Then, as now, the troop deployment was fueled by concerns about the security of people living along the border and by political pressure aimed at setting the stage for a comprehensive overhaul of immigration policy.

That effort failed in 2007, but during his presidential campaign, Obama said he would continue to push for an eventual "path to citizenship" for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country.

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