Obama To Send 1,200 Troops To U.S.-Mexico Border

President Obama is sending up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. Melissa Block talks to NPR's Ted Robbins about the move, which comes as Arizona prepares to implement its tough new immigration law.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

There were a couple of moves on border security from the White House late today. President Obama is sending up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the border with Mexico. He's also requesting an additional $500 million for border security, including the hiring of more federal agents.

NPR's Ted Robbins joins us from Tucson.

And Ted, let's talk first about these steps the president is taking. What will they do?

TED ROBBINS: Well, Melissa, as you mentioned, troops up to 1,200 will come to the border and they'll essentially serve as support for the Border Patrol. So far, the plan seems to be similar to what happened four years ago under Operation Jump Start. Soldiers made themselves visible as deterrents to would-be crossers. They did surveillance, drove vehicles, did office and motor pool support to free up border agents.

They won't be performing law enforcement activities. The half-billion dollars that you mentioned for border security is a supplemental budget request. And that's a big change from the current budget, which did not have additional funding for the Border Patrol. The Border Patrol, I'm told, will now hire more agents and buy more equipment.

BLOCK: And, Ted, of course, these moves by the White House come after a period of intense discussion and disagreement about border security and immigration.

ROBBINS: Yeah. I think you can trace this particular move back to one triggering event on March 27th. That's when rancher Rob Krentz was killed near the border in Southeastern Arizona on his land. Krentz's killer hasn't been caught yet, but the presumption has been that he was killed by a smuggler.

So politicians in both parties began calling for troops. Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who represents the area, she worked with the White House and with ranchers. She was the first to announce today's move. Republican Senators John Kyl and John McCain have also been calling for troops, though a lot more than the - than up to 1,200 that were announced today.

And in fact, President Obama met with Republican lawmakers this morning to discuss immigration, and then this afternoon, he made this announcement.

BLOCK: And, Ted, you're there in Arizona, which has become the flashpoint, really, for this debate over immigration and border security. What reaction have you heard today to the president's decision?

ROBBINS: I've heard a lot of people taking credit for this in Washington, as I just mentioned, and in Arizona where Attorney General Terry Goddard, who is running for governor is saying that he helped bring it about. Although Republican Governor Jan Brewer, who is also running, says she didn't hear about the troops until an Associated Press reporter called her for a reaction.

Now, a month ago, of course, the governor - Governor Brewer signed into law the state law in Arizona cracking down on illegal immigrants, which has voter support but it's been criticized by the administration.

On the other side, some supporters of immigration reform are criticizing this announcement. They're saying it's more of the same thing we've seen for 15 years, and that militarizing the border more will do nothing to solve the underlying problems, which led to the current situation - the pull of jobs and family in the U.S., and the demand for drugs in the U.S.

BLOCK: You mentioned an earlier operation back in 2006, when President George W. Bush sent National Guard troops to the border. Did that help?

ROBBINS: It did, Melissa. It did in the sense that apprehensions along the border dropped when the guard troops came for Operation Jump Start. They stayed in place about a year and a half until more borer patrol agents could be hired and trained, and that was also the period during which the fence was built. Apprehensions have been down since the recession started; most people think because of that.

But recently, there have been statistics showing there has been a small increase in the illegal border apprehensions since last October in Arizona.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Ted Robbins in Tucson.

Ted, thanks very much.

ROBBINS: My pleasure.

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