The Republican-led Arizona Legislature is considering a bill to fund an armed, volunteer state militia to respond to emergencies and patrol the U.S.-Mexico border.
Gov. Jan Brewer could deploy the volunteers using $1.9 million included in the bill making its way through the state Senate. The militia itself was created by a law signed by Brewer last year.
The Arizona Republic reports the bill has a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Appropriations Committee. Senate Bill 1083 has already passed one committee along mostly party lines. It would provide $500,000 in one-time funding and $1.4 million a year from a gang task force fund.
The state is expecting a budget surplus this year, but lawmakers must deal with long-term debt and the May 2013 expiration of the 1-cent-per-dollar sales-tax increase, so it is unclear how much support this bill will receive.
“Something has to be done about the situation at the border — people are being terrorized,” Sen. Sylvia Allen, a Republican from Snowflake who is sponsoring the bill, told The Republic. “There are plenty of ex-law-enforcement officers who could do this. I don’t have any illusion that we can solve our border problem, but this would help.”
Arizona would join 23 other states and territories with active guards, but experts say the state would stand alone if its militia was focused on border enforcement and “combating international criminal activity.”
Most state guards serve as auxiliaries to state National Guards and assist in disaster preparation and response, recovery efforts and protection of infrastructure. State guards typically augment National Guards, a federally recognized reserve military force.
Most often, state governors control the state militia, and the state’s senior military commander directly oversees them. In some instances, state-guard members have access to weapons, which are otherwise locked away in armories for safekeeping, one border expert said.
Maj. Gen. Hugo Salazar, adjutant general of the Arizona National Guard, said he doesn’t have an official position on the legislation but added he has some liability and training concerns. He reports to the governor and would oversee such a civilian militia.
“I do have concerns about weapons,” he recently told the Senate border-security committee, pointing out that no other state militia allows members to carry weapons. “And so, as an objective individual, I ask myself, ‘Is there a reason why?’ There’s a lot of things that have to occur before I feel comfortable putting a weapon in a volunteer’s hand.”
Supporters say a guard could help budget-strapped sheriffs along the border enforce human- and drug-smuggling laws.
“I’m not sure how much longer we just sit around and do nothing,” said Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, who voted in favor of the bill.
But critics question how the militia would recruit members, how the state would vet members, and potential legal ramifications of authorizing an armed volunteer force.
“All this does is it legitimizes the Minutemen-type model of enforcement,” Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said, referring to the civilian border-patrol movement that took root in Arizona around 2005. “It’s crazy. Absolutely crazy.”
Michael Lytle, a border expert at the University of Texas at Brownsville, said Arizona would be the first to test stationing a state guard at the border.
“If it’s to man observation posts, that’s one thing, but if they’re going to arrest people, that’s something entirely different,” he said. “I just don’t know any place where state guards perform that kind of mission. You’ve got kind of an unprecedented situation out there.”