McCain, Kyl: Put 3,000 troops at Ariz. border

2010-04-20T00:00:00Z McCain, Kyl: Put 3,000 troops at Ariz. borderBrady McCombs Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 20, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl have joined with others requesting troops on the border by unveiling a security plan that calls for more soldiers, federal agents, fencing and funding to help Arizona combat illegal immigration and drug smuggling.

The Republican lawmakers called for the deployment of 3,000 National Guard soldiers to Arizona's international border as part of their 10-step border plan unveiled Monday in Washington, D.C. The senators also asked for troops in April 2009.

The March 27 killing of Cochise County rancher Robert Krentz has set off a flurry of requests for troops to the border, from the Krentz family, fellow ranchers and state and national legislators.

Investigators don't know who shot Krentz, 58, on his ranch about 25 miles northeast of Douglas, but they believe the shooter fled into Mexico, fueling speculation it was likely a smuggler.

Gov. Jan Brewer wants to deploy 250 additional National Guard soldiers but doesn't want to use state funds to pay for them. The federal government hasn't answered a formal request from her and other border governors.

The decision to deploy the National Guard would have to come from the president or the Department of Defense.

The Obama administration is committed to securing the nation's borders and has sent "unprecedented manpower, technology and infrastructure resources to the Southwest border over the course of the past 14 months," said Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler in a statement.

"The administration continues to evaluate additional law enforcement options as needed, including the use of the National Guard, along the Southwest border," Chandler wrote in an e-mail.

The 3,000 Guardsmen McCain and Kyl want would be 12 times the number Brewer requested and more than the total in Arizona at the height of the Bush administration's Operation Jump Start mission in 2006-2008. The number of troops in Arizona during the two-year mission peaked at about 2,400 in Arizona and 6,000 across the U.S.-Mexico border.

During the mission, troops helped the Border Patrol by building roads and fences, operating radios and sitting in observation posts near the border to report activity. Guardsmen were not allowed to apprehend or engage anyone they encountered. The 140 Arizona National Guard troops now assigned to support the Border Patrol help with surveillance, analysis and drug-education efforts.

Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever, in Washington for the announcement, said the death of Krentz "has put an exclamation point on the problems that we face and have faced down there for some time." It provides an opportunity to get additional federal resources to secure the border, he said.

"While we have the nation's attention it's important that we strike now and that we get these suggestions implemented now," Dever said. "I really feel that the window of opportunity will close very quickly."

McCain echoed the sentiment, noting that the Krentz killing has captured attention nationwide.

"The communities in Arizona that suffer the negative impacts from illegal border crossings and the lawlessness along the southern border deserve the full support of the federal government," McCain said.

Here's a look at some of the recommendations:

• Add 3,000 Border Patrol agents to the Arizona-Mexico border by 2015.

Hiring has slowed recently following the largest and fastest hiring push in the agency's history, which doubled the number of Border Patrol agents in the past six years. There are 4,000 agents in Arizona today and 20,000 nationwide, more than at any other time in the agency's 85-year history, Chandler said.

• Fully fund the Border Patrol's zero-tolerance program, Operation Streamline, in Arizona so that all repeat illegal border crossers are given 15 to 60 days in jail. Most repeat crossers receive 30 days in jail under the program, said Heather Williams, the first assistant federal public defender for Arizona. The problem with the recommendation is that no matter how much money the program receives, sentences can't be dictated by anybody but judges.

• Give $40 million more to Homeland Security's Operation Stonegarden grant program, which pays local law enforcement overtime rates to work border-security shifts and reimburses equipment purchases. Homeland Security has already given $165 million over the past four years to the program, including $90 million in the current cycle. Arizona law enforcement was given nearly $20 million in this cycle.

• Complete the entire 700 miles of border fence along the Southwest border and add double and triple fencing at appropriate locations along Arizona's international border. About one-third of Arizona's 378 miles of border has pedestrian fences, up from 7 percent three years ago. In addition to these 124 miles of fences, there are 180-plus miles of vehicle barriers.

On StarNet: Read more about the plan in Brady McCombs blog, Border Boletín, at go.azstarnet.com/borderboletin

 

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services and The Associated Press contributed to this story. Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or bmccombs@azstarnet.com

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