PHOENIX -- The Obama administration is going to put 1,200 National Guard troops along the U.S. border with Mexico.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who made the first announcement Tuesday, said the move comes along with the administration's request that Congress approve an additional $500 million for enhanced border protection and law enforcement. Giffords said the action is in direct response to her call for soldiers on the border following the March murder of Cochise County rancher Robert Krentz.
"This fulfillment of my request is a clear sign that this administration is beginning to take border security seriously,' she said in a prepared release.
Her release came shortly before Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced an amendment to pending legislation calling for 6,000 Guard soldiers.
In a Senate floor speech, McCain said he appreciates the additional 1,200 soldiers and the funding.
"I think that it is a recognition of the violence on the border which has been really beyond description in some respects, particularly on the Mexico side,' he said. "But it's simply not enough.'
He wants 6,000 Guard soldiers, 3,000 specifically for Arizona.
Giffords is not the only one taking credit for the new troops.
"I have been calling for these actions for more than a year,' said Attorney General Terry Goddard in his own statement about the White House decision. "I'm pleased the administration is listening.'
Goddard, a Democratic candidate for governor, provided a letter he sent in April to the president calling for various improvements in border security, "including re-deploying the National Guard with authorization to stop and turn back anyone attempting to cross anywhere other than at authorized border checkpoints.'
But that's not what the president has in mind. An administration official said the plan is mainly to use the soldiers in a support role.
That includes providing and analyzing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, and "training capacity until Customs and Border Patrol can recruit and train additional officers and agents to serve on the border.'
There were no more specifics from the White House on the role of the soldiers and for how long they will stay.
Goddard said Tuesday's announcement is "a start.' But he said more resources will be needed.
And he said at least part of the reason for the president's decision is based on
"We clearly now have the focus of the administration, the attention of the administration,' Goddard said.
The statement from the White House, however, called the decision "part of the president s strategic and integrated approach' to dealing with the border. It also claimed that there has been "unprecedented and ongoing border protection and security efforts' during the last 16 months which have both reduced illegal immigration and lowered "average violent crime statistics in states along the Southwest border.'
Gov. Jan Brewer, in her own prepared statement, took some credit for the president's decision which she said represents "a very significant and important shift' in his border policy.
"My signing of SB 1070 has clearly ignited the talk of action in Washington for the people of Arizona and other border states,' her statement read.
That law, set to take effect July 29 unless blocked by a federal court, would specifically require police to check the immigration status of those they have stopped for other reasons if there is "reasonable suspicion' they are in the country illegally.
She said the president now apparently agrees that the border has to be secured "without other pre-conditions, such as passage of 'comprehensive immigration reform.' '
Goddard also said that enactment of SB 1070 "may have played a role' in the president's decision.
"It shows how serious Arizona is taking this issue,' he said.
In his floor speech Tuesday, McCain defended the decision by state lawmakers to enact SB 1070.
"I support that legislation because the Arizona governor and Legislature acted in frustration because of the federal government's failure to carry out its responsibilities to secure our border,' he said.
As proof, McCain said 241,000 people were captured trying to cross the border last year in the Tucson sector alone, which covers most of Arizona west to the Yuma area. Assuming the Border Patrol apprehends just one out of every four or five making the attempt, the senator said that amounts to one million illegal immigrants coming through just that area, "destroying people's property, destroying our wildlife refuges and causing an environment of insecurity amongst the citizens who live in the southern part of my state.'
The 1,200 Guard soldiers are far short of the 6,000 troops sent to the border by the Bush administration as part of Operation Jump Start, including 2,400 in Arizona alone.
Those troops, however, were withdrawn in two years. The Department of Homeland Security said at that time they had served the purpose -- buying time to train more Border Patrol agents -- and were no longer needed.
That withdrawal came over the objections of then-Gov. Janet Napolitano -- the same Napolitano who now is homeland security secretary.
In a related development, Goddard said while he opposed the legislation he will defend it against the five lawsuits already filed in federal court. Defending state laws is one of the roles of the Attorney General's Office.
Meanwhile, Brewer, named as a defendant in several of the lawsuits, has hired her own outside counsel. In a press release, her office said Goddard refused to represent the governor.
Goddard said that's not exactly true.
He said while his office represents the state, it technically does not represent the governor. And he said the fact that he and Brewer are named as individual defendants could create a situation where she, as a client, may have a different idea of how best to defend the law, which makes it best for the governor to have her own counsel.
But Goddard, who criticized the legislation, is showing no particular zeal in arguing to a court it should be allowed to take effect. Asked if he believes the law is constitutional, he responded, "We're going to make the defense.'