WASHINGTON – National Guard troops will remain on the border and continue to “be the eyes and ears of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection” until Sept. 30, under a move announced Friday by the Department of Homeland Security.
State and congressional officials from Arizona had been pushing to keep the troops, who were scheduled to be removed by June 30. They welcomed the announcement Friday, but the governor said it is only a first step.
“While I’m pleased that President Obama has agreed to temporarily extend the deployment of National Guard along the border, this extension would be more meaningful if it were for a longer period of time and coupled with broader security measures,” Gov. Jan. Brewer said in a prepared statement.
She said she urged the administration in April to “include a larger contingent of National Guard, additional airborne and other resources and the completion of a substantial and well-maintained border fence.
“I urge the president to take these actions and make a long-term commitment to border security for the citizens of Arizona and the United States,” Brewer said in her statement.
A Homeland Security spokesman said that keeping the troops in place for another three months will allow them to act as a “critical bridge” while the department works to bring new technology and personnel to secure and manage the border.
The department will continue to work with other federal agencies will to explore new options at the border, said the official, Homeland Security Deputy Press Secretary Matthew Chandler. When he first ordered guardsmen to the border last year, Obama ordered additional staff, technology, and infrastructure to be integrated into the border security strategy.
Capt. Valentine Castillo, public affairs officer for the Arizona National Guard, said that the Guard got the news of the extension Thursday.
“We are always ready and there if the federal government or the state of Arizona needs us to support a mission,” Castillo said.
He said that the mission is still the same: Operation Copper Cactus will continue to work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, mainly as criminal investigative analysts and entry identification teams.
Since last summer, when the Guard was deployed to the border, they have assisted federal agents in the seizure of 14,000 pounds of drugs and the identification and subsequent apprehension 7,000 illegal immigrants, according to Chandler.
The Arizona Guard began a draw-down on the border in mid-May to prepare its 560 soldiers for the end of their deployment. But the Guard was soon told to maintain operational numbers of troops on the border, said Castillo, and this week told they would be staying at least until September.
For security reasons, Castillo could not say how many Guardsmen are still along the border, but he said they will still meet the mission requirements.