WASHINGTON, May 27, 2010 – An agreement to send hundreds of additional National Guardsmen to the southwestern U.S. border is one part of a comprehensive approach needed for immigration reform, President Barack Obama said today.
Obama spoke briefly to reporters about his decision announced earlier this week to authorize as many as 1,200 Guard members to the border during a White House news conference that had focused on the oil spill off the Louisiana coast.
Asked by a reporter about the Guard-deployment plan in light of a new Arizona law to crack down on illegal immigration, Obama said the plan was shaped last year.
„So this is not simply in response to the Arizona law, the president said. The plan became public earlier this week after Obama met with Arizona Sen. John McCain, who has requested more federal resources along the border.
Obama called immigration „inherently the job of the federal government,“ and said sending Guardsmen would be a basic step in securing the border before other reforms are implemented through legislation.
„I don’t see these issues solely in isolation,“ Obama said of the layers of concerns along the border. „We’re not going to solve the problem solely by sending National Guard troops down there. We’re going to do it by creating a fair and humane immigration framework.“
National Guard troops can help with intelligence work, drug and human trafficking interdiction, and relieving border guards on security tasks so they can do more law enforcement, the president said. „So there are a lot of functions that they can carry out that helps leverage and increase the resources available in this area,“ he said.
In 2006, about 6,000 National Guard members participated in Operation Jump Start in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. In accordance with federal law, Guardsmen do not serve in direct law enforcement roles, but provide reinforcement to the U.S. Border Patrol. Their missions included engineering, aviation, entry identification teams and a wide range of technical, logistical and administrative support.
National Security Advisor James L. Jones and Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and Presidential Assistant John O. Brennan sent a May 25 letter to Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, explaining the administration’s decision not to send a specific number of Guardsmen, as one Senate amendment calls for. More than 300 National Guardsmen already are working in counternarcotics duty along the border, they wrote, and more than $1 billion has been secured to deal with drugs and violence along the border.
In authorizing as many as 1,200 Guardsmen to address „evolving border-related challenges,“ the administration is avoiding deploying an arbitrary number of personnel, the letter says.
„The president is committed to a strategic approach, consisting of a requirements-based, temporary utilization of up to 1,200 additional National Guard troops to bridge to longer-term enhancements in border protection and [federal] law enforcement personnel,“ the letter says.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)