Harper promotes use of civilian militia for border patrol
PHOENIX -- With a new Republican majority and a different governor, a veteran state lawmaker is resurrecting plans to create a state civilian militia that could be called out to patrol the border.
Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, said Monday he wants a group of trained civilians that the governor could call out in times of emergency such as natural disasters. And he said the governor also could place the volunteers on the border.
But Harper, who is moving to the state House in January, said that is only part of the plan. He also is crafting a second measure so that, once the Homeland Security Force was established, the governor would have to deploy not only the volunteers but the National Guard to the border if the federal government reduces the number of federally funded Guard soldiers now based there.
That is all but inevitable: The current assignment of 524 soldiers to the Arizona border is temporary. National Guard officials said they will be at full strength only for three or four months, and gone entirely by June 30.
Harper got collegues to approve the first half of the plan in 2007, only to have it vetoed by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano. She called it unnecessary, saying the Arizona Constitution already authorizes her to call out a volunteer militia.
Harper, however, said neither she -- nor current Gov. Jan Brewer -- has done that. He said this measure would not only clarify the power but provide funding as well as the authorization for the state adjutant general to proceed, complete with an oversight committee to help him set up the rules for training.
Brewer said Harper hasn't consulted her on his latest plan. But she gave the concept a cool reception, saying she is focused on forcing the federal government to do more to secure the border.
She said that means not only leaving the existing Guard soldiers in place -- at federal expense -- but adding to the force as well as increase the number of Border Patrol officers in Arizona.
"At this point in time, I think the best thing to do is to work with the federal government,' she said.
Part of the problem, Brewer said, is who picks up the tab.
"It's pretty obvious that the state doesn't have a whole lot of money,' the governor said. "There's probably no way we're going to be able to afford anything like that.'
Harper, however, said initial training costs would be minimal. He said while an actual border deployment would cost more, whatever the state has to spend is far cheaper than the alternative.
"When illegal aliens bring their families across the border, we end up educating their children,' he said.
"When they get caught (committing a crime), we end up paying for their incarceration,' Harper continued. "So there's a vested interest in stopping them at the border.'
Harper said more than two dozen other states already have provisions allowing the formation of volunteer militias.
This group would be made up of volunteers who agree to undergo training at their own expense. Harper said they would have their own weapons for self defense.
He said he envisions the volunteers watching the border and calling Border Patrol when they spot suspected illegal immigrants, comparing the militia to a volunteer posse like some sheriff's departments have, or civilian volunteers that assist local police departments. The fact they would be deployed along the border, Harper said, doesn't change any of that.
But that second phase of Harper's plan involves more than just volunteers watching. If and when federally funded Guard troops go away, it would require the governor to deploy state-funded Guard troops "to handle any kind of armed incursion across our border.'
"Obviously, they won't be checking people's citizenship status,' he said, saying they would call Border Patrol to apprehend those crossing illegally. "But you'd have a military force enforcing the border.'
Harper said he doesn't see a problem with militarizing the border.
"The role of the National Guard is to protect the nation's borders,' he said. "The only thing that's left to be debated is who should pay for it.'
Matthew Chandler, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said his agency does not comment on pending state legislation. But he questioned the need for it, noting that, aside from the temporary deployment of Guard soldiers, there are about 4,500 Border Patrol agents stationed in Arizona.
"Over the past nearly two years, this administration has committed unprecedented manpower, infrastructure and technology to the Southwest border,' Chandler said. "Today, the Border Patrol is better staffed than at any time in its 86-year history, seizures of illicit goods are up across the board, illegal crossings are down and the Southwest border is more secure than ever before.'