DHS requests National Guard extension

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has asked Congress for permission to reprogram more than $30 million to keep the 1,200 National Guard troops along the U.S.-Mexico border until September.

The move comes as President Obama has pushed hard in recent weeks to reinvigorate the immigration debate among lawmakers on Capitol Hill, pronouncing the border more secure than it has ever been in recent years.

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But many Republicans argue that illegal drugs, guns, money and immigrants are still being trafficked across the southwest border — until it is secured, they say, no serious talks can be had on reforming the country’s immigration system.

Obama began to intensely focus his efforts along the southwestern border last year as he requested — and Congress approved — $600 million in additional funding to bolster the ranks and equipment of federal and local law enforcement officials in the region.

As part of those ramped up efforts, Obama authorized 1,200 National Guardsmen to be deployed by California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas to provide material support for the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Operation Phalanx.

But the guardsmen’s deployment is set to expire in June. After several calls from key Republican lawmakers, DHS has asked congressional appropriators for permission to reprogram more than $30 million to keep the troops in the region while more border patrol officials are trained and stationed to eventually take their place.

“Congress appropriates funds for these types of missions, and DHS is requesting a reprogramming through the end of FY11,” said DHS spokesman Matt Chandler. “National Guard support along the Southwest border remains in place.”

Since Operation Phalanx began last July, officials have seized more than 14,000 pounds of drugs, millions of dollars in illicit currency and more than 7,000 illegal aliens, according to DHS records.

In launching his push for a congressional debate on immigration reform last month, Obama believed that the massive increase in law enforcement officers and illicit seizures along the border would show Republicans a meaningful sway in the border’s security. 

But Republicans balked at his pronouncements that the border was secure, with many pointing to a study by the Government Accountability Office that said only 44 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border is under “operational control.”

Last week, Reps. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) held a press conference on the Capitol’s east front with the widow of David Hartley, a Texan who was shot dead by members of a drug cartel in Mexico while jet-skiing with his wife in a known drug trafficking area.

Local law enforcement officials have identified several suspects in the slaying, but the investigation slowed after the lead Mexican investigator was beheaded by drug cartel members.

Since Mexican President Felipe Calderón launched a war against drug cartels in his country, more than 34,000 people have been killed. U.S. officials have attempted to thwart any spillover in violence.

With the continued presence of the National Guardsmen along the border, DHS plans to train more U.S. Border Patrol agents to eventually take over their security duties, according to a senior administration official.