Wed, July 17

Brewer takes offensive in getting National Guard troops to boost state border patrol

Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer
Gov. Jane Hull consults with U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) on the need for more National Guard troops on the border.

Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer Gov. Jane Hull consults with U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) on the need for more National Guard troops on the border.

PHOENIX -- Rebuffed by the Department of Defense, Gov. Jan Brewer is taking her call for more National Guard troops on the border to Congress.

And this time she's got help.

In a letter released Friday, Brewer and her counterparts in California, New Mexico and Texas are asking the top Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate to "fully fund the National Guard Counter-Drug Program.' That program currently pays for 150 soldiers in Southern Arizona.

But that's not all. The four governors want Congress to "add additional personnel to the four southwest border states and ensure that this funding remains in place sufficient to reach a significant decline in border drug trafficking and violence.'

The governors also sought to minimize any opposition to the plan by federal lawmakers who are concerned about an increased military presence along the border, pointing out that the Counter-Drug program already exists.

They said expanding the program will "minimize perceptions that anyone is militarizing the border' while allowing Guard troops "to use their expertise and skills to support the direct services' of law enforcement agencies.

"These personnel are not employed in any form of combat or maneuver role,' the governors said.

The request is similar to one Brewer made more than a month ago to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. At that time, she said state and local law enforcement is already stretched to the limit in dealing with drug trafficking and the related problem of border violence.

What Brewer got in return was a letter from a Gates underling detailing what the Guard already is doing along the border and saying that funding has been increased.

Gubernatorial press aide Paul Senseman said Brewer has no specific dollar demand of Congress. Instead, she believes Arizona could use an additional 250 Guard soldiers along the approximately 400 miles of Arizona's international border.

Brewer called that number "appropriate and workable.'

The governor actually could mobilize Arizona National Guard units on her own.

But Brewer has balked at that option, as the cost would have to be borne by the state rather than the federal government. She said Arizona is not in a financial situation to do the job she believes should be done by the federal government.

"By funding the National Guard Counter-Drug Program in the southwest border states, you will allow federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to fulfill the federal government's commitment to reduce the demand for illegal drugs in our nation,' Brewer and the other governors wrote in the latest letter.

The request comes on the heels of Jon Kyl and John McCain,

Arizona's two U.S. senators, calling for more National Guard troops along the border, and not just in the role of looking for illegal drugs.

Kyl in particular cited the two-year program, known as Operation Jump Start, which put about 6,000 soldiers on the border, including 2,400 in Arizona, in support roles to Customs and Border Protection officers, doing administrative tasks as well as surveillance and fence construction. He said just their presence resulted in a marked decrease in illegal border crossings.

That stance was echoed by Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever who said smugglers have a healthy respect, if not an outright fear, of soldiers.

The soldiers were withdrawn last July.

But Janet Napolitano, who took over as homeland security secretary in January, has balked at the request. She said the Obama administration is unsure it makes sense to have soldiers along the border unless they have a specific defined role.