Reviewing Obama's Plan To Send Troops To Border When President Obama ordered 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, he was reaching into the playbook of previous presidents --including George W. Bush. Bush sent some 6,000 troops in 2006. Was that deployment successful? Melissa Block reviews it with NPR's Ted Robbins.
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Reviewing Obama's Plan To Send Troops To Border

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Reviewing Obama's Plan To Send Troops To Border

Reviewing Obama's Plan To Send Troops To Border

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

To Arizona now, where customs and border agents will soon be reinforced by a deployment of National Guard troops. Earlier this week, President Obama ordered up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. This is not the first time the Guard has been sent to the border.

And it's not the first time NPR's Ted Robbins is covering the story. He joins us now. Hey, Ted.

TED ROBBINS: Hi, Melissa.

BLOCK: And what do you know about how this is going to work?

ROBBINS: Well, the White House says up to 1,200 National Guard troops will be spread along the four Southwest border states. So, that's California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. We don't know exactly where or when yet. They will assist law enforcement already here, both local and Border Patrol, with surveillance and intelligence gathering. And it's all aimed at catching drug smugglers who are coming north from Mexico, and catching guns and money which are flowing south into Mexico.

The administration says this is not an anti-illegal immigrant mission. And I should point out, Melissa, that there are 340 troops who have been on the border for some time. They just haven't made such big news. Those Guardsmen and women have been working on something called the State Counter Drug Program, assisting local law enforcement in much of the same manner.

BLOCK: And, Ted, these new troops going to the border, you mentioned their mission is to catch drug smugglers. But their mandate doesn't include actually being to apprehend anyone.

ROBBINS: That's right and that is federal law. The Posse Comitatus Act from 1878 limits the use of the military to perform law enforcement duties. So the troops which are on the border will be armed to defend themselves. Those in support roles, they obviously won't need weapons.

The new troops are scheduled to be here about a year, and it'll be until more Border Patrol agents are hired and more equipment arrives.

BLOCK: And back in 2006, President Bush sent National Guard troops to the border. It was called Operation Jumpstart. How does this new mission compare with that one?

ROBBINS: It's a lot different. Then, it was at least in part an anti-immigration mission. Four years ago, President Bush sent 6,000 troops to the border states. They stayed two years until they could be replaced by 6,000 new Border Patrol agents. They were hired in a massive recruiting effort.

Another big difference: the Guard then helped build the 700 miles of border fence and vehicle barriers along the U.S.-Mexico line.

BLOCK: And when you and I talked about Operation Jumpstart a couple days ago, you said it was considered pretty much of a success.

ROBBINS: Yeah, well, it certainly accomplished its objective, which - you know, the agents and the fence are now in place, the number of crossers have gone down, especially in the Yuma Border Patrol sector where there wasn't much of anything before, apprehensions dropped by more than 60 percent after Jumpstart.

The government says the Jumpstart troops also helped seize more than 300,000 pounds of drugs, 162,000 illegal immigrants and almost $70,000 in cash. And says they helped rescue at least a hundred people lost in the desert.

BLOCK: Ted, you are based in Tucson, just north of the border. Border security obviously a big issue where you are, what are you hearing from people about this move? Do they support it? Do they not like it?

ROBBINS: It's interesting because politicians of both parties raced to take credit for it after it was announced the other day. And a lot living near the line have been asking for troops for two months, since rancher Rob Krentz was murdered on his land. Everyone presumes the killer was a smuggler, though no one's been caught.

Republicans are saying it's not nearly enough. They want another 6,000 troops. On the other side, those pushing for immigration reform says this does nothing to sort out the millions living in the country illegally nor to help reduce demand for drugs in the U.S.

According to the FBI, crime in border towns on the U.S. side is down or flat. So those critics say this does nothing to help crime in places like Phoenix either. They say that this move - to use a metaphor, sports metaphor - is like trying to score in football when all you have on the field are lineman.

BLOCK: NPR's Ted Robbins, thanks very much.

ROBBINS: My pleasure.

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