WORLD / America

Border states more bitter on troops plan
Updated: 2006-05-16 11:08

President George W. Bush's plan to put troops on the U.S.-Mexico border to stem illegal migrants met mixed reactions in stressed border states - from support in Arizona to skepticism in California and New Mexico to outrage among Hispanic activists.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent outside Laredo, Texas, May 4, 2006. President Bush is expected to call for thousands of National Guard troops along the U.S.-Mexico border to help curtail illegal immigration as debate over the divisive issue heats up. [Reuters]

Bush told the nation Monday he would dispatch 6,000 National Guard troops to the 2,000-mile border as part of a new plan to tighten security and placate those who want a crackdown on the millions of poor who seek work each year in the world's richest nation.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a fellow Republican and one of America's most famous immigrants, walked a careful line by endorsing more border security, but said it is a federal, rather than a state, responsibility.

"I am concerned asking National Guard troops to guard our nation's border is a Band-Aid solution and not the permanent solution we need," Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

Addressing fears of militarization of the border, Bush said troops will be there for one year and will not engage in law enforcement, but rather assist the 12,000-member U.S. Border Patrol with administration and surveillance.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said he was also skeptical and criticized the White House for failing to consult with border governors in developing "this last-minute plan."

"Military support is a stopgap measure that will have little practical effect," Richardson said in statement.

The National Guard is made up of part-time troops who fall under the command of state governors and often are called to active duty to respond to natural disasters or other emergencies. They also can be summoned to active duty by the Pentagon for military deployment.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, whose desert state sees the biggest inflow of migrants, showed her support for the plan and said she had called for "enhanced use of the Guard in exactly the fashion described tonight by the president."

Immigration promises to be a key issue in November elections, and politicians seeking re-election are mindful of not alienating the large Hispanic vote that mostly favors a soft approach to migrants.

Some of the most strident anti-immigration lawmakers and activists have called for building a wall to deter migrants.

While most governors reject this move, they worry about the consequences of their porous borders, not just illegal immigration, but also the flow of drugs and criminal gangs.

Nevertheless, a local law enforcement officer on the border said new troops might cause more harm than good.

"It sends a bad message that we on our side of the border can't do our jobs and that we need the troops in," said Rick Flores, sheriff of Webb County in Texas, across the Rio Grande from the crime-wracked Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo.

Latino activists were incensed by the plan to put troops on the border, but hoped it would further mobilize immigrants to push for rights and amnesty as Congress debates reform that could curb their ambitions to work and live in the country.

"It's nothing short of militarization," Southern California immigrant rights activist Nativo Lopez said. "It's an incredible affront to the national integrity to Mexico and all Mexicans on both sides the border."

One Arizona immigration activist, however, lauded Bush for trying to find a middle ground with his plan so that immigrants can pursue citizenship, come as guest workers and do the jobs Americans won't do.

"The public obviously is pushing for the troops along the border," said Roberto Reveles, president of the Somos America/We Are America coalition in Phoenix. "That doesn't scare me. I realize that has to be included in order to make this whole thing work."