President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $600 million in emergency funds for 1,000 more Border Patrol agents, 160 new federal immigration officers and two unmanned aircraft to beef up security on the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a letter released late Tuesday, Obama asks Congress to consider amending the fiscal year 2010 proposals to include the additional money to go toward securing the Southwest border, enhancing federal border protection and drug-fighting efforts.
“This request responds to urgent and essential needs,” Obama wrote.
Obama proposes to partially offset the costs by canceling $100 million from a lower-priority program within the Department of Homeland Security. Obama also has called for 1,200 National Guard troops to work in support roles.
Of the requested $600 million, $297 million would go toward the new Border Patrol agents, $52.5 million would go toward 160 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and $37 million would pay for two unmanned aircraft, according to amendments enclosed with Obama’s letter. The money also would go toward 30 new Customs and Border Protection officers and 20 new canine teams.
The Border Patrol currently has 20,000 agents, double the amount it had in 2004, according to the Department of Homeland Security. More than 17,000 of those agents are on the Southwest border.
The announcement follows months of heated debate over illegal immigration sparked by the passage of a new Arizona law on April 23. The law requires police investigating another incident or crime to ask people about their immigration status if there’s a “reasonable suspicion” they’re in the country illegally.
The law, viewed as the toughest in the nation on illegal immigration, is set to go into effect July 29 pending several legal challenges and a Justice Department review for possible civil rights violations.
When Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer passed the law, she pointed to Washington’s inaction.
“We in Arizona have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act,” Brewer said at the time. “But decades of inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation.”
Obama has called the Arizona law misguided and said the federal government must enact immigration reform at the national level.
Brewer spokeswoman Tasya Peterson said Wednesday that Obama’s request “may be a step toward trying to do something on the border, but what the governor has asked for numerous times and is still waiting for are specific details” about what will be allocated to Arizona.
“Until we get specific details, the governor has a very hard time analyzing what this actually means for the state of Arizona,” she said.