Bush: 6,000 National Guardsmen to Assist Border Patrol in U.S. Southwest
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 15, 2006 Southwestern border states will deploy up to 6,000 National Guardsmen to provide support to border patrol missions, President Bush said this evening in a nationally televised speech.
"For decades the United States has not been in complete control of its borders," Bush said from the White House.
He said he intends to see that an additional 6,000 Border Patrol agents are trained to join the existing 12,000 by the end of 2008. The National Guardsmen will act as an immediate stopgap measure in the interim.
Bush stressed that National Guardsmen will not be involved in direct law enforcement activities, but will help exclusively in support functions. "The Border Patrol will remain in the lead," he said. "The Guard will assist the Border Patrol by operating surveillance systems, analyzing intelligence, installing fences and vehicle barriers, building patrol roads, and providing training."
The initial commitment of Guard troops would last one year, Bush said. "After that, the number of Guard forces will be reduced as new Border Patrol agents and new technologies come online," he added.
Bush said today and government officials have said repeatedly over the past several days that the United States is not seeking to militarize its southern border. "Mexico is our neighbor and our friend," the president said. "We will continue to work cooperatively to improve security on both sides of the border, to confront common problems like drug trafficking and crime, and to reduce illegal immigration."
In an earlier briefing that was embargoed until after the president's speech, Fran Townsend, the president's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism issues, explained that the departments of Defense and Homeland Security will work together to determine mission requirements for the National Guard troops, then the National Guard Bureau will help identify units to meet those requirements.
"Think of things such as intelligence, surveillance and infrastructure," she said. "There will be a combination of both Guard deployments and contractors to fulfill those mission assignments, depending on the expertise that's required and available."
National Guardsmen should begin taking up duties in these missions "sometime in early June," Townsend said.
Townsend also noted that officials believe 3,000 Guardsmen will be needed for such missions during the plan's second year. She said the Guardsmen will be under operational control of the governor in whose state they are operating but that the federal government will pay for the deployments.
Having 6,000 National Guardsmen supporting border enforcement efforts for a year should not be construed as deploying 6,000 servicemembers for the year, Townsend said. Instead, officials hope the mission requirements can be fulfilled by carefully managing the two- to three-week annual training requirements for Guardsmen. This would help meet mission needs without assuming additional costs, she said. In all, she said, nearly 160,000 Guardsmen could rotate through southwest border duty in this period.
The temporary National Guard deployment is part of a comprehensive plan to deal with the vexing problem of illegal immigration. In addition to deploying Guardsmen and increasing the number of Border Patrol agents, Bush proposed improving administrative procedures to cut the average deportation time for those captured along the border and a guest worker program to reduce the number of people trying to sneak across the border illegally.
"All elements of this problem must be addressed together," Bush said, "or none of them will be solved at all."
Officials today stressed this mission will not detract from the National Guard's roles in the war on terrorism and in supporting their home governors. "It is important for Americans to know that we have enough Guard forces to win the war on terror, respond to natural disasters, and help secure our border," Bush said in his speech.
Toward the end of the address, Bush also saluted people who came to the United States as immigrants and have worked to better the nation. He specifically lauded Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Guadalupe Denogean, who the president and first lady Laura Bush met at the National Naval Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md.
Bush said Denogean came to the United States from Mexico as a boy and spent his summers picking crops with his family before he enlisted in the Marine Corps.
"During the liberation of Iraq, Master Gunnery Sergeant Denogean was seriously injured. When asked if he had any requests, he made two: a promotion for the corporal who helped rescue him and the chance to become an American citizen," Bush said. "And when this brave Marine raised his right hand and swore an oath to become a citizen of the country he had defended for more than 26 years, I was honored to stand at his side.
"We will always be proud to welcome people like Guadalupe Denogean as fellow Americans."