A Senate panel today approved a proposal to create an armed militia that could be deployed to the Mexican border and support local governments combat the drug cartels.
The proposal, which is backed by states’ rights advocates and immigration hawks, sets aside $500,000 in one-time funding and $1.4 million annually for the new state militia.
As envisioned, the Arizona State Guard would have its own command structure apart from the Arizona National Guard.
It would be under the direct control of the governor, who could deploy it to respond to disasters and interdict those who engage in “cross-border criminal activity.”
The militia would also have arrest, detention and property seizure powers.
The measure, SB1083, also allows the militia to pursue criminals onto federal land.
Any citizen or legal resident who has declared his or her intention to become a citizen would be able to volunteer for the force, though individuals who were expelled or dishonorably discharged from the military would be barred.
Though he is neutral on the bill, Maj. Gen. Hugo Salazar, the head of the Arizona National Guard, candidly expressed his reservations during a hearing by the Senate Border Security, Federalism and States’ Sovereignty Committee.
Salazar said he believes he would ultimately be responsible for the new force because current state law gives him responsibility over military organizations in the state. He also said he has concerns about allowing militia volunteers carry weapons, noting that National Guard members go through extensive training before they are armed.
“I’m not saying that weapons cannot be carried, but there’s a lot of things that have to occur before I would be comfortable putting a weapon in a volunteer’s hand,” he said.
Salazar’s remarks prompted Sen. Sylvia Allen, the bill’s sponsor and the committee’s chairwoman, to ask: “How do we fight a war without weapons?”
Salazar said his soldiers that are deployed to the border there are “not fighting the war.”
Rather, he said their mission is to support federal law enforcement. Salazar also said the border issue is a law enforcement and policy problem — not a military one.
“The problem or concern I have is that you cannot solve what I believe is a law enforcement and policy problem with a military solution,” he said.
Establishing the Arizona State Guard could create an expectation it would solve the problem, he added.
Allen said she’s confident that the new force would be highly trained before given a mission.
“But we have to start somewhere. If we don’t start now and get this bill passed, we will never have a state guard to help us if some terrible, God-forbid, something awful happens in this state. We wouldn’t have been available to help in some way. What is Hezbollah training for over there across that border?” she said, referring to reports that the organization is training Mexican drug cartels.
Meanwhile, Sen. Al Melvin, R-SaddleBrooke, said he wants to make sure that the new force would be funded solely by the state and not receive any money from the federal government.
“If it’s federal money, regardless of the administration… it could be influenced one way or another,” he said.
Only Sen. Jerry Lewis, a Mesa Republican, voted against the measure.
He said he agrees with the need to secure the border and favors the use of a state guard to assist in an emergency, but said the bill left with him too many questions.
“It would be best to work out these things before we pass any laws,” he said.