President Barack Obama will seek $500 million for security and send up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexican border, an administration official said on Tuesday after demands from both Republicans and Democrats for more federal resources along the frontier.
The announcement comes as the Democratic president seeks Republican support for a sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration laws, and rallies opposition to a tough new immigration law in Arizona that has caused tension in U.S. relations with Mexico.
The troops will provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, intelligence analysis, immediate support to counternarcotics enforcement and training capacity until the Customs and Border Patrol agency can recruit and train more border officers and agents, the official said.
The funds will be used to enhance technology at the border and share information and support between law enforcement agencies as they target illegal trafficking in people, drugs, weapons and money.
Illegal immigration across the border with Mexico has been in intense focus since Arizona last month passed the new law to drive 460,000 illegal immigrants out of the desert state, which straddles one of the principal corridors for human and drug smugglers heading up from Mexico.
It was a central issue last week during a state visit to Washington by Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who said the law discriminated against foreign-born workers.
Arizona’s two U.S. senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, and Governor Jan Brewer, all Republicans, have all asked Obama for more federal border support. McCain and Kyl have asked for 3,000 National Guard troops.
There are currently 344 U.S. National Guard troops working along the border.
SPARRING WITH REPUBLICANS
U.S. officials are also concerned drug-related violence will cross the border from Mexico, where some 23,000 people have been killed since Calderon took office in late 2006 as drug gangs fought turf wars and battled federal agents.
Obama met with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. He pushed them to support an immigration overhaul, which he said he wants passed this year, but did not bring up the National Guard plan, participants in the meeting said.
Kyl said it was not a good idea for Democrats to “try to hold hostage the security of the border in order to get comprehensive immigration reform passed.”
“Ironically, securing the border will make it easier, not more difficult, to later on get comprehensive immigration reform,” Kyl said after the meeting.
McCain, when asked for his message to Obama on immigration, said they had not agreed. “He didn’t agree. … We had an extended conversation. We didn’t agree.”
Arizona’s attorney general, Terry Goddard, a Democrat running to replace Brewer as governor, said he was pleased with Obama’s announcement. “I have been calling for these actions for more than a year, and I’m pleased the administration is listening,” he said.
Republican senators offered amendments to a spending bill on Tuesday to try to get more funding for border security.
Obama’s predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush, sent National Guard troops to the border under Operation Jump Start in June 2006 to support the border patrol while they recruited more agents.
That operation ended in 2008, before the November presidential election that brought Obama to the White House.
(Additional report by Tim Gaynor in Phoenix and Steve Holland in Washington, editing by Todd Eastham)