PHOENIX - A veteran state lawmaker is resurrecting plans to create a volunteer civilian militia that could be called out to patrol the border.
Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, said Monday that he wants a group of trained civilians that the governor could call out in times of emergency, such as natural disasters. He said the governor also could place the volunteers on the border.
But Harper, who is moving to the state House in January, said that is only part of the plan. He also is working on a second measure that, once the Homeland Security Force was established, would call for the governor to deploy not only the volunteers, but also the National Guard and some Department of Public Safety officers to the border if the number of federally funded Guard troops now based there is decreased.
That's all but inevitable: The current deployment of 524 soldiers to the Arizona border is temporary. National Guard officials said the troops will be at full strength for only three or four months and gone entirely by June 30.
Harper got his colleagues to approve the first half of his plan in 2007, only to have it vetoed by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano. She called it unnecessary, saying the Arizona Constitution already authorizes her to call out a volunteer militia.
Harper, however, said neither she nor current Gov. Jan Brewer has done that. He said this measure not only would clarify the power but also provide funding as well as the authorization for the state adjutant general to proceed, complete with an oversight committee to help him set up the rules for training.
Brewer said Harper hadn't consulted her on his latest plan. But she gave the concept a cool reception, saying she is focused on forcing the federal government to do more to secure the border, which means leaving the existing Guard force in place at federal expense and expanding it, as well as increasing the number of Border Patrol officers in Arizona.
"At this point in time, I think the best thing to do is to work with the federal government," she said.
Part of the problem, Brewer said, is who picks up the tab.
"It's pretty obvious that the state doesn't have a whole lot of money," the governor said. "There's probably no way we're going to be able to afford anything like that."
Harper, however, contends that initial training costs would be minimal. He said that while an actual border deployment would cost more, whatever the state has to spend is far cheaper than the alternative, such as higher school costs for immigrant children who are here illegally, and incarceration of those who break the law.
The militia would be made up of volunteers who agree to pay for their training and provide their own weapons for self-defense, he said. Harper said he envisions the volunteers watching the border and calling the Border Patrol when they spot suspected illegal immigrants. He compares the militia to a volunteer posse, which some sheriff's departments have, or civilian volunteers who help police.
But that second phase of Harper's plan involves more than just volunteers watching. If and when federally funded Guard troops leave, it would require the governor to deploy state-funded Guard troops "to handle any kind of armed incursion across our border."
"Obviously, they won't be checking people's citizenship status," he said, adding that they would call the Border Patrol to apprehend those crossing illegally. "But you'd have a military force enforcing the border."
Harper doesn't see a problem with militarizing the border, saying: "The role of the National Guard is to protect the nation's borders. The only thing that's left to be debated is who should pay for it."
Matthew Chandler, a U.S. Homeland Security spokesman, said his agency does not comment on pending state legislation. But he questioned the need for it.
On StarNet: Find extensive coverage of immigration issues at azstarnet.com/border