President Obama will raise the issue of immigration reform to the fore this week with a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, where he faces a looming decision on whether to keep 1,200 National Guardsmen deployed.
Nearly one year ago, under pressure from congressional Republicans and border state governors to do more to curtail illegal immigration, Obama authorized the use of troops to assist the Border Patrol with immigration enforcement operations in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
Funding for the border security mission approved by Congress expires in June.
In a letter to Obama last month, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer urged the administration to extend the Guard deployment, saying she believes it has had a significant impact on reducing smuggling activity and border violence.
"The support the Arizona National Guard has provided has been very valuable to law enforcement efforts in Arizona," Brewer said. "Further, I believe evidence is clear that the Arizona National Guard has approached the mission with cost effectiveness in mind."
Brewer said the guard has been involved in approximately 19,000 surveillance operations, 10,000 apprehensions of illegal migrants and 235 seizures of drug shipments, including over 18 tons of marijuana.
While the guardsmen cannot directly engage in law enforcement on U.S. soil, they have served as criminal analysts and on so-called entry identification teams, which help spot illegal border crossers.
More than 524 troops have been active in Arizona, 250 in Texas, 224 in California and 72 in New Mexico, officials have said. More than 100 additional troops from the border states serve in command and control positions.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said last week that the administration is considering extending the mission, but that costs of the deployment remain a concern.
"The administration has not made a final decision about whether to continue to deploy them because one of the issues is who pays for the guard," Napolitano told the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
"We have asked the Congress," she said. "I have asked our appropriators twice to allow us to reprogram funds to pay for the guard and to continue to pay for the guard at the border. That reprogramming has been denied. I asked our appropriators and it was denied last year."
Some Republicans, who have proposed cutting funding for border security in their budget proposals for 2012, also oppose spending millions of dollars more to keep the troops deployed.
Still, advocates on both sides of the immigration debate agree the National Guard mission has been success and should continue at least for the short term.
"The military doesn't even have to be doing anything, just maneuvers there, and the cartels basically feel threatened and stay away," said Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, which favors a permanent deployment of the National Guard along the border.
"The presence of the National Guard has been tremendously political, and I don't think it's wise to station troops on the border with your best friend," said former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard. "But the National Guard that's being used today on the Arizona border is being heavily involved, and in the short term they ought to stay there. Bottom line: The issues I see are law enforcement issues. They're not military issues."