After months of an interagency review process, President Obama Tuesday morning pulled the trigger and ordered 1,200 National Guard troops sent to the U.S.-Mexico border. White House officials said the move was not a response to the Arizona immigration law, but rather an effort to combat to the Mexican crime wave spilling across the border into the U.S., though they acknowledged efforts to stem Mexican drug trafficking would likely also lead to a reduction in illegal immigration.
“This is the latest step in an on-going effort over the course of the past 16 months to increase pressure on transnational criminal organizations and illicit flows in both directions to ensure the federal government fulfills its responsibility to secure the Southwest Border,” an administration official said.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer took credit for the president’s action, saying her "signing of the controversial Arizona immigration law has clearly ignited the talk of action in Washington for the people of Arizona and other border states. I am pleased that President Obama has now, apparently, agreed that our nation must secure the border to address rampant border violence and illegal immigration without other pre-conditions, such as passage of ‘comprehensive immigration reform.’”
White House officials say that the president acted this week specifically because of legislative considerations. As Congress begins debating a defense spending bill, the President wanted to head off at the pass a measure to authorize sending 6,000 National Guard troops to the border, which Defense Secretary Robert Gates doesn’t support, a White House official said. Hence: the alternative measure.
Immigration reform was a major topic when President Obama spoke to Republican Senators at their private caucus lunch Tuesday, though the president did not tell the GOP caucus about the new National Guard troops.
In an exchange some participants described as “tense” – though now characteristic for them — Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and President Obama had words for each other on the subject.
“It didn’t sound like either was listening to each other,” one attendee later said.
McCain criticized members of the Obama administration — meaning Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder – who had admitted that they hadn’t read it the Arizona law, though that didn’t stop them from saying it would lead to racial profiling, sources told ABC News.
“I have read the bill,” President Obama told McCain, saying he had legitimate concerns it could lead to racial profiling.
Either way, President Obama said, the state law represented a “patchwork” approach to the issue and reiterated his call for comprehensive immigration reform, pointedly noting that McCain is someone who has supported comprehensive reform in the past. The president told Republicans that he needed their help, that he could ensure a majority of Democrats would support a comprehensive measure but he needed seven or eight Republicans for it to pass the Senate.
A Pentagon official says the 1,200 troops will serve in a one year “bridge” capability until the Department of Homeland Security can hire, train and field additional agents along the four states that border Mexico.
These 1,200 additional National Guard troops will join the more than 340 already working in the border region, helping with increased observation and monitoring of border points of entry; and intelligence analysis of illegal trafficking patterns to support and guide future interdiction operations.
Obama administration officials point out that statistically, illegal immigration into the United States has been reduced, and average violent crime statistics for border states have declined.