Phoenix, AZ – The original program was to have 12-hundred soldiers along the southwest border for a year, with 560 of those in Arizona. Officially the mission runs through June 30. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she has asked key members of Congress to allow her agency to move around some funds to come up with the $30 million to keep the soldiers there three more months. Only thing is, that has not happened yet. And National Guard Capt. Val Castillo said he cannot keep the soldiers there while awaiting word from Washington. More to the point, unless Arizona officials hear otherwise, the first soldiers will be pulled from the border at the end of this week.
(It's a gradual process. We have to turn in our equipment. Make sure the soldiers, when they come off of orders, that their personnel and administrative paperwork all is in order and there's a smooth transaction.)
He said it's just like what happened last summer, when it took months to fully deploy the soldiers to the border. Castillo said Arizona soldiers have been providing support, including at watch points along the border.
(We have National Guardsmen manning those sites basically being extra eyes and ears for Border Patrol. If we see suspicious activity, our soldiers and airmen are there to report that activity directly to whatever sector that they're in, the Tucson sector, to notify Border Patrol.)
There are political implications in the pronouncement by the Obama administration it wants the soldiers to stay through September 30. It comes as the president, in declaring the border more secure than ever, wants Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform, including legalizing about 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country. And Arizona's two Republican senators want the administration to immediately put 3,000 Guard soldiers along just this state's southern border. For Arizona Public Radio, this is Howard Fischer.