Texas Congressman Supports National Guard Troops At Border

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Silvestre Reyes spent more than 26 years working for the U.S. Border Patrol — from 1969 to 1995. During that time, he became the patrol's first Hispanic sector chief. He now represents the sixteenth district of Texas in Congress and his district includes a large swath of the Texas-Mexico border. He joins guest host Tony Cox to discuss why he supports President Obama's move to send 1,200 National Guard troops to the country's southern border.

TONY COX, host:

Next, we turn to the federal response to border issues, especially the violence and drug smuggling that have made headlines for months. The president has ordered 1,200 National Guardsmen and women sent in to help support Border Patrol agents.

Sylvestre Reyes knows the border well. He spent more than 26 years working along the boundary with the U.S. Border Patrol up until 1995. During that time he became the patrol's first Hispanic sector chief. He is now Congressman Reyes, a Democrat representing a big swath of Texas along the Mexico border, including El Paso. That's a stone's throw from Juarez, Mexico, considered to be the epicenter of Mexico's drug violence.

Congressman Reyes, welcome.

Representative SYLVESTRE REYES (Democrat, Texas): Thank you, Tony, it's good to be with you.

COX: You were one of those who early on supported sending additional troops down there. You're getting your wish. It's not the first time troops have been sent to the border area. This may or may not in fact end up being the best solution, but you must be happy that this is at least a step.

Rep. REYES: Well, I'm pleased that the president is taking this step. The difference between what people are concerned about sending troops on the border and the National Guard would be that National Guard, since the mid-'80s, has actually been helping the Border Patrol with surveillance, construction, the different types of support coordinated with the Border Patrol. But they've always operated under the direction of the Border Patrol, which is very important for those of us that live on the border.

What we try to do is enhance the presence of the Border Patrol on the border and at the same time provide training to the National Guard soldiers that they would be using once they got deployed overseas.

COX: You met with Mexican President Felipe Calderon last year, and you know that he was here in Washington just very recently. What do you think the response to this is going to be on the Mexico side of the border?

Rep. REYES: Well, I think in general terms it'll be favorable. Let's not forget that President Calderon, he's using the Mexican military throughout Mexico to take on the cartels, so I believe President Calderon would look at this favorably.

COX: Can you tell us, congressman, is there something specific that you would expect or that you would hope would be accomplished by having these National Guardsmen and women there? And how long do you want them to stay there?

Rep. REYES: Well, the reason that the president exercised his authority to send these initial 1,200 National Guardsmen to the border is because there's been a compelling case that has been made in places like Arizona, New Mexico and some parts of Texas. The Border Patrol in under strain, so what we're doing is using the National Guard to fill in while the Border Patrol hires additional officers.

COX: What do you say to those agencies along the border? Some of the sheriffs in small towns, in Arizona, in California and in Texas, as well, who say even with this additional law enforcement support, that it is way too thin and that there are not enough bodies to be effective?

Rep. REYES: Well, the answer to that is making sure that we utilize not just National Guard, but also technology to be able to monitor. In the case of the sheriffs and police departments, we're also in the process of funding operations to enhance those departments so that they would be able to coordinate with the Border Patrol and provide assistance as well.

COX: Is this, congressman, the only way - or maybe I should ask, is this the best way to secure the borders by tightening up and adding additional personnel? Is this the best way to stem the flow of immigrants coming into this country?

Rep. REYES: Well, it certainly, as it relates to the concerns that have been expressed primarily by the governors of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, I believe that the president is using this and exercising this option as an immediate step to allay their fears and answer their concerns.

Long term, it's more important, I think, to hire professional Border Patrol officers that would be equipped to be able to carry out their duties along this 2,000-mile border with Mexico and also with Canada. Sometimes we forget because the focus is mostly on Mexico, we forget there's also a very large and lengthy border with Canada.

COX: Well, you're not suggesting that the illegal immigrant problem is the same coming from Canada as it is coming from Mexico, are you?

Rep. REYES: No, what I am saying is when we're worried about and using the Border Patrol as America's first line of defense, we need to adequately resource them so that they're able to monitor both with personnel and technology all borders. Right now the priority is on the U.S.-Mexico border largely because of the violence in Mexico.

But we shouldn't forget that the documented cases of entry by terrorists that are coming into this country to harm us have been through the Canadian border. So we have to keep things in perspective there.

COX: Congressman Sylvestre Reyes, a Democrat from El Paso and rural areas beyond joining us from his office on Capitol Hill. Congressman, thank you very much.

Rep. REYES: Tony, good talking to you.

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