Utah Guardsmen Repair Arizona's Border Fences
MELISSA BLOCK host:
President Bush, today, called on Congress to get the job done - on an overhaul of the country's immigration laws. The president made stops in New Mexico and Texas, today, as the National Guard begins its mission to support the U.S. Border Patrol. In Artesia, New Mexico, he spoke at a Border Patrol training center.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: The United States of America will not militarize our border. We're going to make sure that the Border Patrol is the - is directly involved in law enforcement activity. That's what you're trained to do. The Guard's going to free up Border Patrol to focus on stopping illegal immigrant coming in. They're going to be building the roads and they're going to be doing the support.
BLOCK: Captain Talon Greeff is with one of the first groups of National Guardsmen to arrive at the border. He's the commander of about 50 soldiers from Utah's 116th Construction Support Equipment Company. His unit is in Arizona. They're improving a road, and extending a tall fence near the border town of San Luis.
Captain TALON GREEFF (Utah National Guard, 116th Construction Support Equipment Company): When the project was started 18 months ago, there wasn't any fence line at all. Our plan is to add 300 meters to the fence while we're here for two weeks. And so, we're building a barrier fence that's about 12 to 14 feet tall.
BLOCK: Twelve to 14 feet tall?
Captain GREEFF: That's correct and it's made completely out of iron.
BLOCK: And if somebody really wanted to get under that fence or over it, do you figure that's possible?
Capt. GREEFF: You know they'd have a really hard time going under the fence because we're pouring a cement block that's buried about four feet down into the ground. We know that the fence can be climbed, but one of the primary purposes of the fence is to prevent vehicle traffic, which it does quite well.
BLOCK: And you're talking to us from along side that border fence right now, what do you see?
Capt. GREEFF: I'm looking at a lot of dusty road and a very tall iron fence and a lot of desert.
BLOCK: Are the members of your National Guard unit, are you armed or unarmed?
Capt. GREEFF: We are unarmed.
BLOCK: And how do you feel about that?
Capt. GREEFF: Having served in Iraq I have to admit that I'm uncomfortable probably though just because my time in Iraq I carried a weapon 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
BLOCK: When were you in Iraq?
Capt. GREEFF: We returned from Iraq about a year ago.
BLOCK: And what were you doing over there?
Capt. GREEFF: Very similar mission: constructing roads, airfields, and bunkers so they could destroy captured enemy ammunition.
BLOCK: You do hear this from some people, that the presence of National Guard troops along the border, even if you say it's not a militarization of the border, that it could scare legal crossers off; that there's a lot of business that goes on everyday across the border and that that could be a detrimental thing.
Capt. GREEFF: You know to me that's counterintuitive to what our experience is. I know I feel safer when I go to the store and I see a police officer and I think that people who are legally along the border are going to feel safer seeing American soldiers.
BLOCK: I wonder if there are points when you look at that border, as massive as it is, and look at the stretch of road that you're helping, rather the piece of fence that you're building and think, we can spend two weeks doing this, but this is a really big piece of territory.
Capt. GREEFF: Yeah, well when you're down here, you get focused on your mission and you get focused on what your goals are. Talking to the border patrol, and just from what we've observed you have to imagine that as you put the barrier fence in it's going to impact whatever traffic was going to happen in that area.
We firmly believe that we're making an immediate impact as we extend this fence-line.
BLOCK: Do you think this, that maybe what it does is just sends people a few miles down, down the border somewhere else?
Capt. GREEFF: You know what, having the barrier in place does change the traffic pattern. But in those areas where they have a high volume of traffic coming over the border, as you erect the fence, it's going to make a difference in those areas. And hopefully it makes people think twice about conducting an illegal crossing.
BLOCK: Or again, maybe it just makes them cross somewhere else.
Capt. GREEFF: That could be.
BLOCK: Well, Captain Greeff, thanks very much for talking with us, appreciate your time.
Capt. GREEFF: Bye, bye.
BLOCK: Captain Talon Greeff with the Utah National Guard's 116th Construction Support Equipment Company, speaking with us from San Luis, Arizona, on the Mexican border. They'll be there for two weeks.