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Will National Guard Troops at the Border Make a Difference?

There are 1,200 National Guard troops on the U.S.-Mexico border, working as extra “eyes and ears” for Border Patrol agents to watch for trafficking and illegal border crossing. But as the Associated Press points out in its story today on the troop deployment, many question whether they will make any real difference.

The problem is that National Guard troops have no power to make arrests. This is partially to maintain foreign relations: Mexican President Felipe Calderón said in May he would support the deployment as long as National Guard troops did not make arrests. “If the National Guard helps toward a common purpose of having a safer border and if they can do this without detaining Mexican migrants, I think this [planned deployment] could bring about positive results,” Calderón said.

But without arrest power, critics argue the troops will be ineffective. Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce (R) told the AP the troops amount to a “welcome wagon” for illegal immigrants:

“They’re military, and instead of letting them do their job, we let them down there with typewriter ribbon and oil cans,” said Pearce, who wrote Arizona’s controversial immigration legislation. “We send them overseas in harm’s way but we don’t let them defend our own borders in a proper manner?”

On the other hand, critics of the deployment argue there are too few troops to substantially increase border security. Of the 1,200 troops deployed, 524 went to Arizona, 224 to California, 72 to New Mexico and 250 to Texas. The final 130 went to a national liaison office. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has pushed for additional troops as part of his 10-point border security plan, said in May that he welcomed the troops but that the move was “not enough” to stabilize the border.

Questions over the National Guard’s effectiveness do not just come from the right: Human rights groups argue the troops are unnecessary because residents of border states already feel safe.

Still, Border Patrol officials said the National Guard is boosting security. About 400 illegal immigrants were arrested this summer after being spotted by National Guard troops, the AP reported.

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