PHOENIX – The first National Guard troops sent to assist immigration agents Monday are to work on projects near a fortified stretch of desert along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The 55 Utah National Guard members plan to begin extending fences, improving gravel roads and working on border lighting near the town of San Luis, Ariz., which is part of the nation's busiest U.S. Border Patrol station.
"They are putting everything together so they can hit the ground running," said Maj. Hank McIntire, a spokesman for the Utah National Guard.
The troops are part of President Bush's plan to send up to 6,000 National Guard members to the four border states to perform support duties that will allow immigration agents to focus on border security. The Guard members won't perform significant law enforcement duties.
The National Guard members, who arrived in Arizona on Saturday, also were briefed on the duties of the Border Patrol and given tips on staying hydrated in the triple-digit heat of the Arizona desert.
A 12-foot-high corrugated metal fence divides San Luis from Mexico. About 50 yards inland from the border stands a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire and towers with surveillance cameras.
Stadium lights help agents spot those who try to slip across at night.
Officials say 300 National Guard soldiers from Arizona are expected to begin arriving at the state's border in mid-June.
About 170 troops are already helping federal and state officers there with communications, fence construction and anti-drug efforts.
The National Guard has been providing such assistance along the Arizona border for more than 15 years.