August 17, 2006

US Guard deployment curbs crossings from Mexico

By Tim Gaynor

NOGALES, Arizona (Reuters) - The deployment of National
Guard troops along the U.S. border with Mexico since June has
cut the number of illegal immigrants crossing into the United
States by 43 percent, Homeland Security Secretary Michael
Chertoff said on Thursday.

President George W. Bush ordered 6,000 National Guard
troops to the border in May as a stopgap measure to boosting
frontier security for two years while more Border Patrol
officers are recruited.

Speaking at a news conference in this sun-baked city on the
Arizona-Mexico border, Chertoff said the deployment of troops
had added "real value" to Border Patrol enforcement and cut the
number of illegal immigrants apprehended by 43 percent.

"The bottom line is results ... They have done
magnificently and contributed to national security in a very,
very real way," said Chertoff, who was flanked by National
Guard and Border Patrol agents at a Border Patrol station.

The total number of arrests during the period was not
immediately available, but last year, the Border Patrol nabbed
almost 1.2 million people trekking north over the rivers and
deserts of the 2,000-mile (3,200-km) border with Mexico -- some
40 percent of them south of Tucson, Arizona.

Bush ordered the troop deployment as part of a broader
proposal to overhaul immigration laws and tighten security on
the porous southwest frontier.

It sought to give many among an estimated 12 million
illegal immigrants living in the United States a chance at
citizenship, while boosting the number of Border Patrol agents
by half to 18,000 over two years.

Chertoff, said sending soldiers to the border states of
California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas since June had freed
up Border Patrol agents to concentrate on enforcement.

Soldiers assigned to the border are not empowered to make
arrests, but act in a support role as the "eyes and ears" of
the Border Patrol, Chertoff said.

The 1,190 troops on duty in Arizona carry out tasks ranging
from building vehicle barriers and access roads along remote
stretches of border, to spotting for illegal immigrants
crossing north along clandestine trails.

The Border Patrol's spokesman for the Tucson sector said
the number of apprehensions since the start of the operation
had fallen by more than a quarter over the same period last
year, and described the troop presence as "extremely helpful."

"It allows us to get out and patrol, and maintain control
over the border," Jesus Rodriguez told Reuters.