July 14, 2006

US National Guard says not militarizing border

By Kristin Roberts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. National Guard Bureau chief
on Friday dismissed suggestions the United States was
militarizing its border with Mexico by sending thousands of
soldiers and airmen to help secure the porous frontier.

"We're not putting 6,000 armed national guardsmen on the
border as a show of force," said U.S. Lt. Gen. Steven Blum.

"This is not a military operation. We are in support of a
homeland security operation or a customs and border protection
operation," he said.

Blum said Mexicans were used to seeing guardsmen, who also
have supported U.S. counternarcotics efforts, along the border.
The deployment, therefore, of as many as 6,000 troops to the
U.S. Southwest "does not excite our Mexican friends and allies
in any unproductive manner."

Mexican officials have objected to U.S. plans to send
troops and build fences along the border. Rather than focusing
on tightening the border, Mexico wants the United States to
make it easier for immigrants to become legal.

But in a congressional election year, the Bush
administration and lawmakers have pushed for a clampdown on
illegal immigration and focused on the Mexican border, where
hundreds of thousands of people sneak into the United States
every year.

As Congress considers two vastly different proposals on the
table to overhaul immigration law, the National Guard has begun
to deploy to the area to support law enforcement.

About 3,600 guardsmen have been sent to four border states,
putting the Guard ahead of schedule for placing 6,000 troops
along the border by August 1, Blum said.

That deployment, he said, does not affect the Guard's
ability to support other homeland missions, such as hurricane
response, or its role fighting overseas.

Each state has its own National Guard that is commanded by
governors. Blum said 30 governors agreed to provide troops for
the operation and none had refused. California sent 1,000
troops but turned down a request for another 1,500 troops.

The border operation will focus on what Blum called the
main problem areas: Tucson and Yuma, Arizona, and El Paso,

The Guard will build patrol roads and fences and install
lighting, sensors and towers with cameras, he said. It will
provide aerial reconnaissance as well as communications,
medical and intelligence analysis capabilities, Blum said.