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Ariz House approves bill to have border troops detain immigrants

AP | March 11, 2007

The Arizona House approved a proposal Thursday that would give Gov. Janet Napolitano $10 million to pay for sending National Guard troops to the state's border with Mexico to detain illegal immigrants if there's a state of emergency at the international boundary.

Nearly 2,500 National Guard members are already at the Arizona border as part of President Bush's plan to perform support duties that tie up immigration agents. Under the plan's rules, the soldiers aren't authorized to make arrests.

The proposal at the Legislature is a response to a decision by four Tennessee National Guard members to back off and call in Border Patrol agents on Jan. 3 as gunmen approached their observation post near the Arizona-Mexico border. The agents weren't able to find the gunmen. No shots were fired.

"They do not need to retreat," said the bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Warde Nichols of Chandler, who has suggested the gunmen were testing the resolve of the troops. The bill, approved in a 38-15 vote, now moves to Senate.

It would put an estimated additional 100 troops at the border who would be able to detain illegal immigrants if the governor were to decide to use the National Guard in a state of emergency at the international boundary. It wouldn't require the governor to use the funding for border troops.

Supporters said the current rules for Guard members at the border are too restrictive and leave the troops vulnerable to armed criminals.

Opponents said the Guard members did exactly as they were trained to do and were only supposed to perform support duties, such as monitoring border points, assisting with cargo inspection and operate surveillance cameras.

Democratic Rep. Steve Gallardo of Phoenix, an opponent of the bill, said the proposal would duplicate efforts that are already being paid for by the federal government and that the state shouldn't pick up additional expenses.

The bill said Guard members can take appropriate actions to defend themselves and don't need to retreat.

Democratic Rep. Tom Prezelski of Tucson, who voted against the proposal, said Guard members object to the word "retreat" because they believe it implies that they are doing their work at the border with cowardice.

"The presence of this word in any legislation is not a tough stance on immigration, but a complete and utter lack of respect for our National Guard soldiers," said Prezelski, who failed in an attempt to remove the word from the bill (HB2766).

Republican Rep. Ray Barnes of Phoenix, a supporter of the bill, said the blame for the retreat rests with the people who gave the order to pull back and not with the four Guard members.

"This is an absolute retreat without any military confrontation, and as far as I am concerned, that's almost sacrilegious to be given an order like that," Barnes said.

Napolitano, who has declined to comment on the bill, vetoed a bill last year that would have required her to send National Guard troops to the border if she declared a border emergency.

Napolitano, who at the time was pushing a plan to send troops to the border to assist federal authorities, objected to the bill's requirement that she send troops to the border - a mandate that she said was an unconstitutional infringement of her powers to command the National Guard.




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