The Guard Card

GOP congressional candidates talk about troops on the border

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was quick to praise President Barack Obama's recent decision to send 1,200 National Guard troops to the Mexican border.

"The White House is doing the right thing," Giffords said in a statement. "Arizonans know that more boots on the ground means a safer and more secure border."

Republican Jonathan Paton—one of the five candidates in the Aug. 24 primary that will decide the GOP candidate in Congressional District 8—begs to differ.

Paton, who gave up his state Senate seat earlier this year to run for Congress, dismissed the announcement as "bait and switch," because the troops won't be patrolling the desert, but will instead be performing a variety of support roles so more Border Patrol agents can be in the field—as the soldiers did when the Bush administration sent them to the border in 2006.

"I don't think it's going be enough to do what we want them to do," Paton says.

A supporter of the 10-point border plan recently released by Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, Paton says he wants 6,000 National Guardsmen actively patrolling the border.

The federal Posse Comitatus Act, which dates back to the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, prohibits the military from engaging in domestic law-enforcement operations, although there are some exceptions.

Paton acknowledges that using the military as police makes some Americans nervous.

"We don't want American troops in our cities going on patrol in their Humvees," Paton says. "That's what happens in Third World countries."

But he says that the dangers posed by Mexican drug cartels and smuggling operations call for a response that goes beyond traditional law enforcement. He says the Guard would be filling a "much different role. It's preventing people from coming in, which is something the military does in other parts of the world, like Afghanistan and Iraq."

Paton isn't sure how long it would take to stem the current flow of migrants—"I'm not going to put a specific timeline on it"—but he says that until local ranchers say they believe the border is secure, he would not support legislation that creates a guest-worker program that would allow immigrants to come to the United States to work.

Republican candidate Jesse Kelly was also dismissive of the plan to send the National Guard to the border.

"Sending 1,200 troops to do surveillance and intelligence when they're not even going to be apprehending illegal immigrants is an insult to the American people," Kelly says.

The former Marine says he supports sending "as many troops as it takes" to the border until a double-layered fence is built. And he has no qualms about allowing those troops—he'd like to start with 3,000—to patrol the border themselves. He says the situation on the border goes beyond a criminal matter and is a national-security concern.

"It's not only illegal immigrants coming across. It's not only drugs. There are terrorists that come across that border," says Kelly, citing a recent Department of Homeland Security alert regarding a Somali man suspected of planning to enter the United States through the Texas-Mexico border.

Like Paton, Kelly says Congress shouldn't be considering a guest-worker program until fewer people are entering illegally.

"While we still have 10 percent unemployment in this country, and we still have a border that is wide open, we can't discuss a guest-worker program," Kelly says. "Once the border is secure, once we have real, enforceable employer sanctions in place, then we can start talking about a guest-worker program."

Kelly thinks that kind of conversation is at least two to three years in the future.

Republican candidate Brian Miller differs with both Paton and Kelly by arguing that you can't fix the problem of people crossing into the country while you still have a broken immigration system.

"Unless you fix the problem, which is how we allow people to immigrate to our country, simply putting troops on the border is a false solution," Miller says.

The Air Force Reserve pilot supports establishing a guest-worker program that would allow more foreign workers to enter the United States, which would aid employers and make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to find work.

He says the federal government has enough Border Patrol agents on the payroll, but they need to be redeployed.

"It's not that we don't have enough Border Patrol agents," Miller says. "The Border Patrol needs to be on the border, not 20, not 30, not 50 miles inside our country. They need to be fighting the problem at the border, not in our backyards."

Miller says illegal border crossing should be treated as a criminal matter, handled by the Border Patrol, rather than as a military operation handled by the National Guard.

GOP candidate Andy Goss is ready to call out the troops. A former Army sergeant who now works for a military contractor, Goss says the National Guard isn't enough; until a double-layer fence is finished on the border, he wants to send "an active-duty military unit down there. These foreign nationals, they don't necessarily always respect our Border Patrol, but they typically do respect our nation's military."

Goss says that if the troops need any training in law-enforcement restrictions that might conflict with their typical rules of engagement, "the Border Patrol could give them a crash course on exactly what's needed."

Goss dismisses the idea of reforming the current immigration system to create a guest-worker program.

"Why in the world, when we have double-digit unemployment in this country, would we even consider expanding a guest-worker program?" Goss says. "Our own people are out of work, and we want to bring foreigners in to take our jobs? It makes no sense to me."

Jay Quick, a sheet-metal manufacturer who ran as an independent in 2006, owns property in Cochise County. He maintains that there are plenty of Border Patrol agents already in the area.

"You can't go five minutes without having one of those guys drive past you at high speed," he says.

Quick, who supports establishing a guest-worker program to reduce the lure for illegal border-crossers who are seeking work, doesn't think adding the National Guard will do much good.

"We're just throwing money at the problem," Quick says.

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