Photo by Howard Fischer, for the Miner.
PHOENIX – Gov. Doug Ducey is defending his decision to deploy 338 National Guard soldiers to the border, saying it’s not about politics even as he boasted there is finally an administration in Washington that cares about the issue.
Ducey, speaking with reporters after addressing the troops, did not dispute that apprehensions along the Arizona-Mexico border are as low as they’ve been in decades.
For the most recent fiscal year, there were 51,504 people apprehended by Border Patrol in the Tucson and Yuma sectors. That compares with 79,061 the prior year – and more than 725,000 in 2000.
Instead, Ducey is relying on what he said is a 200 percent increase from March 2017 to this past March. And that, he said, justifies the move.
“This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone,’’ he said. “This is something we’ve been talking about in Arizona for over a decade.’’
He said the problem has been ignored for years.
“Thank goodness we have a federal government that will finally pay attention to what’s happening on the border,’’ the governor said.
Yet Ducey acknowledged that the Bush and Obama administrations had also deployed far more National Guard soldiers, all with the exact same purpose: To provide support for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
“So for President Trump to call up the National Guard is not something that’s new and unique,’’ he said in defending the move.
Less clear is what the soldiers will be doing and, more to the point, how long they will stay.
Capt. Aaron Thacker said at this point the Guard is waiting to hear what assistance federal agents need.
“Remember, we’re going in in support roles,’’ he said.
“The idea is there is a mission here and to complete the mission so you can call it successful,’’ Ducey explained. And he said it makes no sense to put a time limit on all of that.
“You know, you don’t want to say to people that are trafficking drugs and human beings across the border how long you’re going to be there and show them a timetable,’’ the governor said. And that, he said, made the deployment indefinite.
The question of soldiers along the border has raised some concern about militarizing the area.
In a letter to Ducey, Democrat Congressman Raul Grijalva called the deployment “a mistake and an ineffective and wasteful use’’ of military resources. He said the country should be focusing on security and economic cooperation “without further militarizing border communities.’’
Ducey said that misstates what the soldiers will be doing.
“These Guard troops are there to support the Border Patrol,’’ he said.
“So it allows us to get more from the Border Patrol to the border,’’ the governor continued. “It gets more boots on the ground and they serve in a support capacity, which they’ll be very good at.’’
Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier said he is comfortable with that.
“I share the concern some may have regarding the appearance of the militarization of the border,’’ he said in a prepared statement Monday after he and other sheriffs spoke with the governor. But Napier said any fears have been allayed.
“Arizona National Guard personnel will not be used in an enforcement role and will not have any law enforcement powers,’’ he said. “The governor made clear the Arizona National Guard are simply providing additional resources to enhance border security, better interdiction of drug and human traffickers, and to give humanitarian assistance to migrants suffering criminal victimization and life-safety issues due to the extreme environment.’’
And Napier said Ducey told the sheriffs he will be seeking additional federal grant dollars for area law enforcement needs.
That still leaves the question of whether, as Trump has argued, a wall is needed.
Ducey said he believes two-thirds of the border already has a wall.
“So if we want to fill in the other third with a wall, I would welcome that,’’ he said.
“I don’t like how our border is wide open and unsecured, particularly in the Tucson sector,’’ Ducey continued. “I also think we can use boots on the ground and technology.’’