WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will send 1,200 National Guard troops to boost security along the U.S.-Mexico border, officials said Tuesday, pre-empting Republican plans to try to force votes on such a deployment.
Obama will also request $500 million for border protection and law enforcement activities, according to lawmakers and administration officials. The moves come as chances for action on comprehensive immigration reform, Obama's long-stated goal, look increasingly small in this election year. But Obama is under pressure to do something with the issue front and center after Arizona's passage of a tough crackdown law.
The National Guard troops will work on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, analysis and training, and support efforts to block drug trafficking. They will temporarily supplement border patrol agents until Customs and Border Protection can recruit and train additional officers and agents to serve on the border, an administration official said.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of a public announcement, disclosed the plans shortly after Obama met at the Capitol with Republican senators who pressed him on immigration issues including the question of sending National Guard troops to the border.
Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl have been urging such a move, and Republicans planned to try to require it as an amendment to a pending war spending bill.
In a speech Tuesday on the Senate floor, McCain said the situation on the U.S.-Mexico border has "greatly deteriorated." He called for 6,000 National Guard troops to be sent, and he asked for $250 million more to pay for them.
"I appreciate the additional 1,200 being sent ... as well as an additional $500 million, but it's simply not enough," McCain said.
Democrats were considering countering McCain's amendment with a proposal of their own after disclosure of the White House plans.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., said that the administration would announce the deployments late in the day Tuesday. But the White House wasn't expected to formally send the spending request to Capitol Hill until after the Memorial Day recess, said Kenneth Baer, spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Homeland Security and Pentagon officials have been jousting over the possible National Guard deployment for the better part of a year. Pentagon officials worried about perceptions that the U.S. was militarizing the border and did not want Guard troops to perform law enforcement duties.
In 2006, President George W. Bush sent thousands of troops to the border to perform support duties that tie up immigration agents. But that program has since ended, and politicians in border states have called for troops to be sent there to curb human and drug smuggling and to deal with Mexico's drug violence that has been spilling over into the United States.
More than 20,000 Border Patrol agents are deployed now, mostly along the Southern border.
Associated Press Writer Andrew Taylor and Suzanne Gamboa contributed to this report from Washington, Billeaud contributed from Phoenix.