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States Fret at Easing of Border Security Plan

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States Fret at Easing of Border Security Plan


States Fret at Easing of Border Security Plan

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

On Capitol Hill, the debate rolls on over the bipartisan immigration bill. Today, the Senate voted to slash the number of guest workers who could come to the U.S. on temporary visas. The change would cut the number in half from 400,000 to 200,000 a year.

Meanwhile, border state governors are worried about security. As NPR's Ted Robbins reports, some of the 6,000 National Guard troops deployed along the U.S.-Mexico border are being pulled back.

Unidentified Man: The number is 625557.

TED ROBBINS: For about a year, National Guard troops have been rotating in and out of outposts along the U.S.-Mexico border. We visited this unit from Virginia last fall what's called an entry identification team in Nogales, Arizona. Soldiers stayed visible under blue tents to deter illegal crossers while scanning the landscape, reporting anyone who did crossed.

Unidentified Man: Another east or west of the fall line.

ROBBINS: The deterrent worked. The number of crossers apprehended by the Border Patrol since last October is down by about a third, while drug seizures are up. Drug violence in Mexico has also been worsening, as cartels fight for control.

So Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano is upset that the government is beginning to remove soldiers.

Governor JANET NAPOLITANO (Democrat, Arizona): My understanding is they simply won't rotate as many Guard to Arizona. And my further perception is that that is so that more Guard are available for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.

ROBBINS: Napolitano and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson wrote President Bush asking him to reconsider. Their argument is that the troops are needed at home more than overseas. But the government says this was the plan all along. Here's the president almost exactly a year ago announcing the Guard deployment.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: This initial commitment of Guard members would last for a period of one year. After that the number of Guard forces will be reduced as new Border Patrol agents and new technologies come online.

ROBBINS: Which is exactly what the Department of Homeland Security says it's done since last May - added new agents on the border.

Mr. RUSS KNOCKE (Spokesman, Department of Homeland Security): We are present at a little more than 13,500 Border Patrol agents — and that is about a 20 percent increase from last year.

ROBBINS: And DHS spokesman Russ Knocke says more agents are on the way.

Mr. KNOCKE: We are aggressively recruiting new men and women into the United States Border Patrol. And expect that there will be a 30 percent increase over the course of the next year to get us to 18,000-plus by the end of calendar year 2008.

(Soundbite of beeping sound)

ROBBINS: New fencing and sensors have also gone up in strategic places along the border over the last year, making it even tougher to cross. Some analysts, though, say it's a slowing economy, rather than border security, that's cut down on the number of apprehensions.

Regardless, about half of those who do cross illegally still come through Arizona. And there's been a surge in drug-related violence recently just across the Arizona-Mexico border. So Governor Napolitano met this week with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar to see if they might remove troops from somewhere else first.

Gov. NAPOLITANO: So they reduce some other areas before they reduce in the Tucson sector since it's still is the busiest sector. They're going to take another look at that. They're going to look at putting some more drug trafficking resources into our border. We don't want that drug trafficking violence crossing over.

ROBBINS: The Texas Guard has already reassigned hundreds of soldiers along that stretch of border. And if Border Patrol recruiting is successful over the next 18 months, most of the Guard will be removed. The way to know if it's a good idea is to see if apprehension numbers continue to go down and drug seizures continue to go up after the soldiers leave.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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