Washington – President Barack Obama will dispatch up to 1,200 National Guard troops to help secure the U.S.-Mexico border and will ask Congress for $500 million to shore up law enforcement in the Southwest and provide other border protection tools.
The additional troops will help fight narcotics trafficking across the border, provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, and help train border agents until the Customs and Border Protection service can recruit and train additional agents itself.
The money would pay for more agents, investigators and prosecutors along the border, beef up Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security work there, and improve rapid sharing of information with state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies.
The White House called it “a multi-layered effort to target illicit networks trafficking in people, drugs, illegal weapons and money.”
Aides did not say how quickly the troops would be dispatched. They also did not say whether the money would be borrowed and added to the debt, or financed by cutting other spending or raising taxes.
The move comes as Obama’s push for comprehensive immigration reform has been overrun by complaints that the federal government has failed to secure the border.
Those complaints have been escalating since the shooting of an Arizona rancher on March 27 and reached a crescendo with that state’s enactment of a tough new law aimed at using local police to crack down on illegal immigrants.
White House aides hoped the troops and cash would help answer the demand to fix the border first, making it easier to push through a broad reform that would include a possible path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.
“The White House is doing the right thing,” said Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. “Arizonans know that more boots on the ground means a safer and more secure border. Washington heard our message.”
Arizona’s Republican senators, however, said the move was inadequate.
“The president is not sending enough troops,” said a joint statament from Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl. “In 2006, President Bush deployed 6,000 National Guard troops to the Southwest border. We believe the situation on the border is far worse today than it was then due to the escalating violence between the Mexican drug cartels and the Mexican government. For this reason, we need to deploy at least 6,000 National Guard troops to the border region.”
Frank Sharry, executive director of the liberal group America’s Voice, criticized Obama for bowing to pressure for more troops on the border without first winning a solid commitment from Congress to take up broader immigration legislation.
“It’s a trap,” Sharry said. “‘Border security first’ means border security never.”
Without a comprehensive approach, Sharry said, undocumented immigrants will continue to be lured by jobs at cheap wages that undermine U.S. workers.
The Mexican government lauded the Obama proposal, looking at it from a different perspective.
In a statement, the Mexican Embassy in Washington said it “trusts that this decision will help to channel additional U.S. resources to enhance efforts to prevent the illegal flows of weapons and bulk cash into Mexico, which provide organized crime with its firepower and its ability to corrupt.”
(Kevin G. Hall of the Washington Bureau contributed.)