Arizona to get 524 National Guardsmen for border patrol

PHOENIX -- Fewer than half the National Guard soldiers the president is planning to put along the border will end up in Arizona.

The White House said Monday Arizona will get 524 soldiers within about a month. That is out of 1,200 troops the administration announced last month it will deploy along the entire Southwest border.

And even that number is misleading, Gov. Jan Brewer said Monday.

The governor said she was told during a closed-door briefing by Obama administration officials there would be a "ramp up' period and that it would take some time to get to that full strength. At the other end of the one-year deployment, Brewer said, there would be a period of gradual decline in strength.

"Not for a year will we have 524 National Guardsmen,' Brewer said. In fact, the governor said, the state will have its full allocation for perhaps just 120 days.

That understanding was confirmed late Monday by the Department of Defense.

Lt. Col. Robert Ditchey II said there will be a ``steep ramp up' early next month, peaking at 524 by October. He said that will be ``sustained for approximately 120 days through January 2011, followed by a gradual ramp down to mission completion on June 30, 2011.'

Administration officials did say the soldiers will mainly be involved in surveillance efforts as well as analyzing criminal information. They also will "enhance and repair' 22 miles of existing border fence.

What they will not be doing is actually patrolling and picking up illegal immigrants, though the governor said she was informed they will be armed.

Overall, the governor called what she heard in her 90-minute briefing "somewhat disappointing, to say the least.'

Brewer specifically singled out figures the Obama administration officials provided showing the cost for the Guard deployment across the entire Southwest border for the 12-month period would run about $135 million. By contrast, the governor said she was told the president wants Congress to approve $310 million in the upcoming federal budget to help Mexico fight drug cartels.

"That is very, very disturbing,' she said.

Monday's briefing of the governor follows the face-to-face meeting Brewer had with Obama in the Oval Office earlier this month. At that time the president promised to send top advisers to Arizona to give her details of what his administration has done -- and plans to do -- to secure the border.

Brewer was clearly unimpressed.

"What we heard wasn't anything of what we had hoped to hear,' Brewer said.

The response was slightly different from Democrats like the president, who got their own briefing earlier in the day in Tucson.

Attorney General Terry Goddard said he got the distinct impression from John Barton, the deputy national security advisor for homeland security who headed the briefing team, that the Obama administration has more in the works.

"His statement is this is only the beginning of the process,' Goddard said.

"I came away with a clear understanding that was responding to an urgent situation,' Goddard continued. He said Barton wants to do an analysis of the situation -- an analysis Goddard said should lead to a plan of what is needed long term to secure the border, including whether that means more soldiers.

"They actually didn't say that to me,' Brewer said when asked if this Guard deployment is just a first step.

C.J. Karamargin, press aide to U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was also part of the Tucson briefing, said she, like Brewer, believes more than 1,200 National Guard soldiers are needed to help boost border security.

"It's a good start,' Karamargin said. "But more needs to be done.'

The number is just a fraction of the 6,000 National Guard soldiers who were working on the Southwest border during the peak of Operation Jump Start. That program, which ran from 2006 into 2008, included 2,400 soldiers in just Arizona at its peak, all in support roles.

But the Bush administration ended that program after concluding it had served its purpose of providing a temporary bridge while new Border Patrol officers were hired and trained.

Brewer said the subject of whether the U.S. Department of Justice intends to sue Arizona over its tough new law aimed at illegal immigration never came up during her 90-minute briefing.

The president has called the law misguided and said it could lead to racial profiling. He specifically directed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to review the law, including provisions requiring police to question some of those they stop about their immigration status, to determine if it illegally infringes on the right of the federal government to control immigration policy.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview earlier this month with a TV station in Ecuador, said the decision had been made to sue, with the government simply working out the details. As of Monday, though, a Department of Justice spokeswoman said no determination has been made.

Five other lawsuit already have been filed in federal court challenging various aspects of the law which will take effect July 29 unless blocked by a judge.

Other than the specifics of the number of soldiers coming to Arizona, Monday's meetings produced few new specifics.

The White House already detailed last week how it plans to spend an additional $500 million the president wants from Congress for border security, including 1,600 new Border Patrol officers. The amount of new programs actually is $600 million, with the administration planning to divert $100 million from what it says are lower priority projects.

Administration officials who were part of the briefing team would not speak with reporters. In fact, they got the governor's office to let them enter the building through an underground garage and up through an elevator that opens only in the secure, non-public area of the governor's office.

Comments

Comments are not posted immediately. Submissions must adhere to our Use of Service Terms of Use agreement. Rambling or nonsensical comments may not be posted. Comment submissions may not exceed a 200 word limit, and in order for us to reasonably manage this feature we may limit excessive comment entries.

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.