Guard Vows 6,000 Troops for Border

Border Patrol officers work the streets of San Elizario, Tex., on bicycles. President Bush has ordered adding about 6,000 National Guard troops to help the agency
Border Patrol officers work the streets of San Elizario, Tex., on bicycles. President Bush has ordered adding about 6,000 National Guard troops to help the agency "gain full control" of the 2,000-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)

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By Spencer S. Hsu and Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The commander of the National Guard pledged yesterday that 6,000 troops will be trained and ready to carry out President Bush's order to help secure the U.S.-Mexico border starting next month, but the narrowness of their mission and long-standing doubts about U.S. enforcement efforts shadowed Bush's call to "gain full control of the border."

Even as administration officials provided more detail on the Guard's role along the southern border, advocates on both sides of the debate, especially anti-immigration conservatives in Bush's own party, kept up their attacks on his multitiered drive for tougher enforcement at the borders and inside the United States, a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here, and a temporary-worker program.

Speaking to reporters, military and homeland security officials played down the scope of the deployment and hedged when gauging its overall impact on the 2,000-mile-long border. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff stressed that beefed-up enforcement at the border will also require border barriers, new technology and the establishment of a guest-worker program to regulate the flow of immigrants seeking jobs.

"The fact of the matter is if you have people who are willing to try eight, 10, 12 times" to cross the border, Chertoff said, a legal guest-worker program would "bleed off a lot of that pressure . . . on the Border Patrol."

Without a guest-worker program, Chertoff has said, "it's going to be extraordinarily difficult to ask our Border Patrol agents . . . to stem the tide that is driven by a huge economic engine of employers looking for people to do work that won't be done by Americans."

The deployment of up to 6,000 troops is expected to begin in June and could extend into a second year with a smaller force of about 3,000, said Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense. They will be replaced as more Border Patrol officers are hired and trained.

McHale said the military force will consist mainly of National Guard troops from California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico who will rotate to the border for three-week tours in lieu of their annual 15-day field training.

Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said the decision to handle the mission with many short rotations is designed to minimize the stress on the Guard's citizen soldiers, already taxed by unprecedented war deployments.

"We're talking about people that have jobs, people that have families. And we're trying to balance that," Blum said.

"I don't want to say it's business as usual," he added, "but it's usual business done at a little bit more expanded pace," describing a nearly 20-year-old Guard role in counternarcotics activities .

The National Guard will not be involved in patrolling the border and apprehending and detaining illegal immigrants. Mexico said yesterday that it will file lawsuits in U.S. courts if troops directly engage in detaining migrants.

Blum also stressed that the expanded border mission will not come at the expense of fighting terrorism abroad or providing disaster relief, other missions that have strained the Guard.


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