More than thirty members of the Arizona National Guard were deployed near Tucson Monday, in a move by the Obama administration to beef up security along the country's volatile southwest border with Mexico.
Federal officials told Fox News the all-volunteer Guard personnel will continue streaming into the region in weekly waves each Monday, with the total number set to reach 560 troops by October 1. Their deployment is part of a larger statewide plan to combat Mexican drug cartels called Operation Copper Cactus.
"Our main purpose is to serve as extra eyes and ears for Customs and Border Patrol," said Sgt. Valentine Castillo of the Arizona National Guard. Although armed and trained in a variety of military procedures, ranging from basic combat and first aid to computer programming and surveillance, the newly deployed Guard members will not exercise direct law enforcement duties.
Rather, they will man Entry Identification Team sites along the border, Castillo said, and serve as criminal intelligence analysts in support of ICE and other agencies on the front lines of the immigration wars. Twenty-eight of the Arizona Guard members will handle administrative support for the other 532, once the deployment reached full capacity this fall.If any of the deployed Guard were to spot illegal immigrants crossing the border, or criminal organizations at work, they would call the information into law enforcement officers for direct response, Castillo said.
President Obama has committed to sending a total of 1,200 National Guard troops to the four states principally affected by narco-trafficking and the smuggling of guns, money, and people across the border. In addition, he signed legislation earlier this month that set aside $600 million for the hiring and deployment of 1,500 Border Patrol, ICE and Drug Enforcement Agency personnel.
Unlike Operation Jump Start in 2006, Castillo pointed out, all of the National Guard deploying along the Tucson border are from Arizona, and not from other states across the country.
Rep. Trent Franks, a four-term Republican from Arizona, claimed the deployments are not significant enough to combat the wave of violence along the border, which has recently seen Mexican officials shot to death by cartel gunmen. "The reality is that [Sens.] John McCain, John Kyl and I had asked for 6,000 troops for the Southern border and they chose 1,200 -- of which about 500 are coming to the Arizona area," Franks said in an appearance Monday on "America's Newsroom." "This administration continues to refuse to secure our border and weaken our missile defenses."
Obama administration officials counter that they have committed unprecedented resources to the border battle. In a speech at American University on July 1, the president claimed border protection was now benefitting from more "boots on the ground" than at any time in American history, and that the border itself - despite sensationalized reports about spiraling crime - was safer than at any time in the last twenty years.
"We doubled the personnel assigned to Border Enforcement Security Task Forces," the president said. "We tripled the number of intelligence analysts along the border. For the first time, we've begun screening 100 percent of southbound rail shipments. And as a result, we're seizing more illegal guns, cash and drugs than in years past."