Obama relents, sends National Guard to Arizona border 

Bowing to pressure from border state politicians, President Obama will send 1,200 National Guard troops to the region and seek $500 million for border security.

The move follows two key meetings Obama held on the issue: A frank discussion with visiting Mexican President Felipe Calderon last week, and a closed session with Senate Republicans on Tuesday.

"I think it is a recognition of the violence on the border, which has been really beyond description in some respects, particularly on the Mexico side," said Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.

At the same time, McCain said border security has "greatly deteriorated" in the past 18 months and called the proposed guard deployment "simply not enough."

The president's move pre-empted Republican plans to tack a vote on guard deployments for the border onto a funding bill for Iraq and Afghanistan.

And although it's a long shot, the administration is hoping the guard troops will soften Republican resistance to starting a process for considering immigration reform. Republicans have warned that securing the border must be a first step.

Until now, Obama has largely rejected a security-focused solution to the border in favor of a more comprehensive policy for both immigration and violence associated with the drug wars.

He has pushed for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and a shift away from funding military efforts in Mexico against narcotraffickers toward supporting courts and other civil institutions.

While the president has noted that illegal immigration rates are down, the violence on the border and especially the bloody drug war spinning out of control across the border from El Paso in Ciudad Juarez has put regional governors and lawmakers on the offensive.

Some border state Democrats also were pushing Obama to act, notably Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who hailed a "boots on the ground" approach. Giffords faces a serious re-election challenge.

Obama has been highly critical of a new Arizona law requiring police to check the citizenship status of those detained for other crimes who they believe may be in the country illegally, and requiring immigrants to carry documents proving their status.

Peter DeShazo, director of the Americas program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the administration is "sending a message" with the funding and guard deployment.

"The U.S. really does need to work more closely with Mexico to interdict the flow -- not just of drugs from Mexico, but also guns trafficked from the U.S. to Mexico," DeShazo said. "The Mexicans are suffering the most from the violence, but the trafficking and crime affects the U.S., too."

The decision also breaks an impasse between Homeland Security and the Defense Department, where officials have long been leery of troop deployments to the border.

Instead of performing a law enforcement function, the guard troops will work on surveillance, intelligence and other support activities.

Former President George W. Bush sent 6,000 troops to four states along the border with Mexico in a program called Operation Jump Start that ended in 2008.

At the time, similar concerns about militarizing the border restricted the work the guard troops could do, and they spent time behind computers, building fences and operating in a support role to the Border Patrol.


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