Plan to send Guard to Mexico border stalled

Agencies spar over funding, deployment

By Lolita C. Baldor
Associated Press / August 13, 2009

E-mail this article

Invalid email address
Invalid email address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

  • Email|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

WASHINGTON - A government plan to use National Guard troops to help stem Mexican drug violence along the southern border is stymied by disagreements over who will pay for the soldiers and how they would be used.

Ordered by President Obama in June to help secure the border with Mexico, the Pentagon and the Homeland Security Department drafted a $225 million plan to temporarily deploy 1,500 National Guard troops to supplement Border Patrol agents.

The two agencies are wrangling over how to structure the deployment, but the primary sticking point is money, according to senior administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The funding stalemate lingers even after Obama renewed his commitment to Mexican officials on Monday to reinforce the border and to help Mexico battle the drug cartels. Fierce battles between Mexican law enforcement and the cartels have left as many as 11,000 people dead and fueled concerns about violence spilling into the United States.

“The United States will also meet its responsibilities by continuing our efforts to reduce the demand for drugs,’’ Obama said during a news conference in Mexico on Monday, “and continuing to strengthen the security of our shared border - not only to protect the American people, but to stem the illegal southbound flow of American guns and cash that helps fuel this extraordinary violence.’’

Meanwhile, state leaders are getting antsy.

Governor Rick Perry of Texas is still waiting for a response to his request for 1,000 more troops, his spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said Tuesday.

“For too long the border has gone without the adequate resources to secure it,’’ Cesinger said. “It’s a federal responsibility but a Texas problem.’’

White House spokesman Nick Shapiro cautioned that Obama has not made any decision yet on the issue. “The president is firmly committed to ensuring that our borders are secure and that we are doing all that we can to cut off the flow of drugs, illegal weapons, and bulk cash in both directions,’’ he said.

Early drafts of the Pentagon’s plan revealed that the Defense Department would seek reimbursement for its costs of the program, which is slated to last just one year, giving the Border Patrol time to build up its force of agents.

The Homeland Security Department, which expects to get roughly $44 billion in its overall 2010 budget compared with the Pentagon’s $636 billion, is also reluctant to bear the costs of the proposed program.

Military officials have also balked at having a highly visible, uniformed presence at border crossings.

One administration official said an initial Pentagon draft was ruled out by Defense Secretary Robert Gates because it suggested that National Guard troops could be used to help screen commercial vehicles at the border.

Defense leaders have been insistent that the United States avoid any appearance of militarizing the border, and they are opposed to using the soldiers at border entry points to openly inspect vehicles.

Defense officials have been uneasy about the National Guard plan from the onset, insisting that the effort be temporary and not tied to any existing program that could end up being extended or made permanent. Adding to those concerns is the fact that while the program would be federally funded, the National Guard members would be under the control of the border states’ governors.