President Obama will send 1,200 National Guard troops to boost security along the U.S.-Mexico border, officials said Tuesday, pre-empting Republican plans to try to force votes on such a deployment.
Obama will also request $500 million to hire more border patrol agents and buy more equipment, according to lawmakers and administration officials. The moves come as chances for action on an overhaul of immigration laws, Obama's long-stated goal, look increasingly small in this election year.
According to the White House, the money would be used for enhanced border protection and law enforcement. The National Guard troops are meant to be a stopgap: They will provide intelligence, surveillance and counternarcotics support until Customs and Border Protection can recruit and train more officers to serve on the border. They will not act in a law enforcement capacity.
Supporters of an immigration overhaul criticized the move as doing nothing to fix the problems that lead to illegal crossings — the U.S. demand for drugs and the lure of jobs.
The plans were disclosed shortly after Obama met at the Capitol with Republican senators who pressed him on immigration issues, including the question of sending National Guard troops to the border.
Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl have been urging such a move, and Republicans planned to try to require it as an amendment to a pending war spending bill.
In a speech Tuesday on the Senate floor, McCain said the situation on the U.S.-Mexico border has "greatly deteriorated." He called for 6,000 National Guard troops to be sent and asked for $250 million more to pay for them.
"I appreciate the additional 1,200 being sent ... as well as an additional $500 million, but it's simply not enough," McCain said.
In a statement, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said the president's proposal comes up short.
"Temporary fixes are no solution to long-term challenges," he said.
Democrats were considering countering McCain's amendment with a proposal of their own after disclosure of the White House plans.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) said the administration would announce the deployments late in the day Tuesday. But the White House wasn't expected to formally send the spending request to Capitol Hill until after the Memorial Day recess, said Kenneth Baer, spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Both Democratic and Republican politicians have been calling for more resources on the border ever since rancher Rob Krentz was killed on his land in southern Arizona two months ago. Krentz was presumably killed by a drug smuggler, but no one has been caught.
Homeland Security and Pentagon officials have been jousting over the possible National Guard deployment for the better part of a year. Pentagon officials worried about perceptions that the U.S. was militarizing the border and did not want Guard troops to perform law enforcement duties.
In 2006, President Bush sent thousands of troops to the border to perform support duties that tie up immigration agents. But that program has since ended, and politicians in border states have called for troops to be sent there to curb human and drug smuggling, and to deal with drug violence in Mexico that has been spilling over into the United States.