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Border Violence Renews Calls to Use National Guard at U.S.-Mexican Border

March 16, 2009
Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)
Last week, President Obama addressed the escalating Mexican drug cartel violence along the U.S./Mexican border.  Border violence was also the topic at a House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing.  (McClatchy, March 11, 2009 and CNN, March 12, 2009).  The cross-border violence, which has caused 200 American deaths and over 7,000 deaths in Mexico since January 2007, continues despite the presence of nearly 20,000 U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers and 45,000 Mexican soldiers along the border.  (House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border, Maritime, and Global Counterterrorism Hearing Transcript, March 12, 2009). 

On Wednesday, President Obama acknowledged the violence saying: "I think it's unacceptable if you've got drug gangs crossing our borders and killing U.S. citizens" but was non-committal about a solution to the problem including whether the National Guard should be deployed to the border.  (McClatchy). Obama said his administration would "examine whether and if National Guard deployments would make sense and under what circumstances...."   Obama failed to clarify the circumstance by which he would deploy the National Guard, saying: "I don't have a particular tipping point in mind" but that he was "not interested in militarizing the border."  The reluctance to use the National Guard at the border is a departure from the position Obama took in 2006 when, as a U.S. Senator, he voted in favor of an amendment offered by Senator John Ensign (R-NV) authorizing the deployment of the National Guard to the border.  (Roll Call Vote 137, May 22, 2006).

President Obama's statements were made in response to the request by two border state governors - Rick Perry (R-TX) and Jan Brewer (R-AZ) - who have requested additional support resources including using the National Guard to provide greater border security.  Governor Perry, following a recent trip to El Paso, called for 1,000 troops to protect the border.  Governor Brewer echoed that sentiment, asking Defense Secretary Robert Gates to put more National Guard troops along the border.  Brewer wrote Gates saying that Arizona may need additional equipment, paid for by the federal government, to secure the border.  (Yuma Sun, March 11, 2009).

The next day, a House Homeland Security subcommittee chaired by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) heard testimony about the border violence.  The hearing also focused on whether the Obama Administration planned to use the National Guard to quell the violence and secure the border.  Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) asked Roger Rufe, the Director of Operations, Coordination and Planning for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS): "When are we going to hit the tipping point where we do need the use of the National Guard and the military down at the border?"  (Hearing Transcript).  Rufe replied that the Administration "would exhaust all of the resources of the federal government [before using] DOD and National Guard troops...."  Echoing the comments made by President Obama earlier in the week, Rufe concluded saying that "we very much do not want to militarize our border.  So that is essentially a last resort.  But we're planning for it if it becomes necessary."

Obama is not the only person in his administration to have taken conflicting positions on the use of the National Guard at the border.  In 2006, as Governor of Arizona, current DHS Secretary, Janet Napolitano vetoed legislation that would have stationed Arizona National Guard at the Arizona-Mexico border, but also pressed then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for National Guard funding and eventually signed an Executive Order sending members of the Arizona National Guard to the border.  (Americans for Legal Immigration, March 8, 2006).  When Operation Jump Start, the 2006 initiative announced by President Bush to send 2,500 National Guardsmen to the U.S.-Mexico border, expired last summer, Napolitano stated, as recently as November 2008, that the National Guard should remain at the border.  (DefenseLink News, June 6, 2006 and Arizona Central, November 21, 2008).  Given the DHS testimony last week, Napolitano either appears to be at odds with the Department she now heads and the President she works for, or she has also changed her position and no longer supports the use of the National Guard at the border.
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The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) is a national, nonprofit, public-interest, membership organization of concerned citizens who share a common belief that our nation's immigration policies must be reformed to serve the national interest.

FAIR seeks to improve border security, to stop illegal immigration, and to promote immigration levels consistent with the national interest-more traditional rates of about 300,000 a year.

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