CREATED Apr 19, 2012
Reporter: Kevin Keen
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Thousands of troops, more than $1 billion from taxpayers and years of military missions along the U.S.-Mexico border. Is it all worth it? A new report from the federal government aims to give the facts needed to answer that question, and Arizona’s governor's office weighs in.
This year, the 1,200 National Guard troops along the line will be reduced to 300. They’ve helped patrol the border in states like Arizona through Operation Phalanx since summer 2010.
The Government Accountability Office interviewed agencies like the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security and found those men and woman have helped Border Patrol while it hires and trains the number of agents it needs. Another benefit, according to the report: those troops gained experience in the desert environment they could be deployed to overseas. Their work has also made the border a safer place, agencies noted.
There have been challenges as well. Troops, for example and according to the report, cannot make arrests, limiting what action they can take. Another finding: stationing members at the border makes it difficult for the National Guard to meet other duties, like helping law enforcement elsewhere. Deploying people to the border, it says, has also made it harder to recruit new people.
Then there's the price tag. The report states the two major missions, Operations Jump Start and Phalanx, cost taxpayers about $1.35 billion. That does not include the cost of other border-related operations.
“Certainly, it's costly,” said Matthew Benson, spokesman for Governor Jan Brewer. “That's one issue. But I point out that there's a significant cost to not having the border secured as well.”
Brewer has repeatedly said troops need to play a role along Arizona's border.
“The governor's intent has always been that National Guard would be a bridge, if you will, until we get a fence constructed of some size, enough technology on the border and enough Border Patrol,” Benson told KGUN9 News over the phone. “Basically, National Guard are there to keep a lid on things until we get a more secure situation at the border.”
Benson said the governor’s office welcomes the report and analysis and isn't surprised by the findings.
The Border Patrol in the Tucson region said it is currently training all the staff it needs and there are no job openings for border agents. Right now, 4,200 people work in the region. Late Thursday, the national Border Patrol office didn’t return KGUN9’s request for an update on hiring nationwide.