WASHINGTON – National Guard troops will head to the U.S.-Mexico border Aug. 1 for a yearlong deployment to keep a lookout for illegal border crossers and smugglers and help in criminal investigations, federal officials said Monday.
The troops will be armed but can use their weapons only to protect themselves, Gen. Craig McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told a Pentagon news conference. The troops will undergo initial training and be fully deployed along the nearly 2,000-mile southern border by September.
The announcement comes as the U.S. debate over illegal immigration has intensified in an election year.
“The border is more secure and more resourced than it has ever been, but there is more to be done,” said Alan Bersin, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, part of the Homeland Security Department.
The 1,200 troops will be distributed among four border states, with Arizona getting 524; Texas, 250; California, 224 and New Mexico, 72. Another 130 would be assigned to a national liaison office.
Bersin also said the Homeland Security Department will provide six more aircraft, including helicopters, to the border. He said at least 300 Customs and Border Protection agents and inspection officers would be sent to the Tucson area, along with mobile surveillance vans and additional technology.
“It will help,” Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat, said Monday. “Manpower clearly has been deficient. Technology has been somewhat deficient, and they’re bolstering that.”
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, said the deployment isn’t enough “nor tied to a strategy to comprehensively defeat the increasingly violent drug- and alien-smuggling cartels that operate in Arizona on a daily basis.”