National Guard border deployment begins Aug. 1

Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin announced the initiative. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin announced the initiative. Alex Brandon/AP

Senior Homeland Security officials said on Monday that on Aug. 1 they will begin deploying 1,200 members of the National Guard to boost security along the Southwest border. Nearly half that number -- 524 -- will be deployed to Arizona, where illegal immigration and smuggling are most prevalent and have become a major political issue for the Obama administration.

"These troops will provide direct support to federal law enforcement officers and agents working in high-risk areas to disrupt criminal organizations seeking to move people and goods illegally across the Southwest border," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement.

California and Texas will receive 224 and 250 troops, respectively, and New Mexico will get 72. An additional 130 guardsmen will serve in command-and-control positions. DHS first requested the troops in May.

Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton joined National Guard Bureau Chief Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley at the Pentagon on Monday to discuss the deployment plan.

The deployment is scheduled to last for one year, during which time DHS will hire an additional 1,000 Border Patrol agents and personnel to work at ports of entry.

"The efforts of the National Guard will be to support the personnel that DHS has increased and placed on the Southwest border since 2009," said Bersin. In addition to the temporary influx of guardsmen, CBP will send about 300 more agents, more mobile surveillance systems, and six additional aircraft to the border, he said.

The National Guardsmen will help DHS personnel identify illegal border crossers and drug and arms smugglers as well as support intelligence operations, Bersin said.

Last year, ICE agents removed 387,000 people in the United States illegally, 136,000 of whom were criminals, Morton said. Like CBP, the immigration enforcement agency is focusing more of its efforts on the Southwest border. In June, ICE sent an additional 300 special agents, removal officers and intelligence analysts to the four border states and increased its presence in Mexico.

"We're also adding 68 National Guardsmen who will serve as intelligence analysts and will help us focus on our cross-border smuggling investigations," Morton said.

In addition, ICE plans to open a new investigative office in Arizona and send a jump team of specially trained agents to Douglas, Ariz., to help with investigations.

McKinley said the deployment would not hinder National Guard support to military operations in Iraq or Afghanistan, where 54,000 guardsmen currently serve. The border states collectively have about 50,000 National Guard personnel, he said, and supplying 1,200 personnel for the border security mission would have no negative impact on other missions.

"I rely on the adjutants general and the governors, who advise Defense Secretary [Robert] Gates and Secretary Napolitano, to tell me where the need is and right now I cannot see a case where we will be overextending the National Guard in this effort," McKinley said.

The troops will be taking the lead from law enforcement personnel, McKinley said. While they will be armed, they will use force only in self defense.

"They will be deployed only on the United States side of the border following the rules of engagement as set forth by the lead agencies here," McKinley said. "We have done this before and it is common practice for all soldiers and airmen to only take that action to extricate themselves from the situation and not be provocative."

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