The president sent 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border last year to boost security. Roughly 560 troops have been at the Arizona border since October. The National Guard’s border mission is scheduled to conclude at the end of June.
“I am concerned that when the current mission ends in June, the gains we have made will be immediately lost,” Brewer wrote in a letter to Obama that is dated Monday and was publicly released on Tuesday. “Arizona can ill afford that kind of loss in the effort to secure the border.”
She didn’t specify how much longer she wanted the build-up of National Guard members at the border.
Matthew Chandler, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is in charge of policing the country’s borders, issued a statement touting the National Guard’s contribution in helping border agents seize drugs and spot illegal immigrants near the border. Chandler said funding has been secured to pay for improved communications equipment along the border, two additional unmanned aircraft and other border agents.
“Today, the Border Patrol is better staffed than at any time in its 86-year history,” Chandler said.
The troops were sent to the border to perform support duties that tie up immigration agents. The Guard members are armed for self-defense reasons but don’t have authority to make arrests. For instance, they use binoculars, night-vision equipment, remote cameras and computers to conduct surveillance at the border.
The Guard’s stay at the border is the second such deployment since President George W. Bush sent 6,000 troops to the nation’s southern border from June 2006 to July 2008.
Brewer is known for signing the nation’s toughest local immigration law last year. The most contentious parts of the law were put on hold after the U.S. Justice Department went to court to invalidate the law.
The governor filed a counter-suit alleging that the federal government has failed to protect Arizona from an “invasion” of illegal immigrants. It seeks extra safeguards, such as additional border fences.
The governor asked the president in her letter for more substantial border fences that pose a larger obstacle to smugglers.
A 646-mile fence covers about 30 percent of the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. Nearly half of the fence sits in Arizona, the busiest gateway for both illegal immigrants and marijuana, with the rest equally divided in California, New Mexico and Texas.
“I urge you to take a focused look at the current fence line in its entirety and whether it is an effective deterrent and obstacle to illegal activities,” Brewer wrote. “I believe you will conclude that significant stretches meet no such standard.”
Brewer also asked for an increase in funding for a more than 20-year-old program in which a separate group of about 140 National Guard troops assists in anti-drug efforts at the border and for four to six more helicopters to patrol the border in a bid to bust more smugglers.