Arizona governor seeks more Guard troops on borderBy Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Saying Arizonans are in danger from drug-related violence, Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to put another 250 National Guard troops along the border.
In her letter to Gates, Brewer said the current 150 soldiers stationed there as part of the Joint Counter Narco-Terrorism Task Force are insufficient. The governor said federal help is necessary because Arizona faces "a number of unique and/or disproportionate challenges relative to other states.''
But Brewer said Wednesday's request may not be her last, telling Gates she may soon be asking him for additional equipment -- paid for by the federal government -- to meet the demands the task force faces.
"Specifically, our aerial reconnaissance assets seem limited to meet the challenges posed by our nearly 400-mile border with Mexico,'' the governor wrote. But Brewer promised to "study the matter further'' before actually asking for more.
In a separate prepared statement, Brewer said state and local law enforcement agencies "are stretched as they attempt to address the enormity of the problems'' of the illegal drug trade and related border violence.
"Our citizens must be protected from border violence,'' she said.
Brewer already has the power as commander-in-chief of the Arizona National Guard to order soldiers into the area. And gubernatorial press aide Paul Senseman said she has not closed the door to that as an option.
"But as you are aware, the state is currently in the largest budget deficit in state history that she inherited,'' Senseman said, that last part a slap at Janet Napolitano who quit in January to become homeland security chief in the Obama administration. At that point the state had a $1.6 billion gap between expenses and revenues; the outlook for the coming year is a deficit of close to $3 billion.
"This is an appropriate responsibility of the federal government, one that we are hopeful they will engage in,'' Senseman said, calling it a "modest request.''
Brewer, in her letter to Gates, said she is "extremely sensitive'' to the demands for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the governor said the additional 250 troops is "appropriate and workable.''
The soldiers now along the border are separate from the approximately 2,400 Guard troops stationed there for two years as part of Operation Jump Start until they were withdrawn last summer.
That program had soldiers in "support'' roles for officers of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, ranging from surveillance and building fences to administrative tasks, freeing up the border officers to actually go out and apprehend those entering the country illegally. The program, which involved about 6,000 soldiers all along the U.S-Mexico border, was designed to be a stop-gap while additional border patrol officers were hired and trained.
Officials at the Department of Homeland Security -- the agency Napolitano now heads -- said when they withdrew the troops that those soldiers were no longer necessary.