WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama told lawmakers Tuesday that he will send up to 1,200 National Guardsmen to the U.S.-Mexico border to help provide security as drug war violence continues to escalate.
The deployment is part of a $500 million effort to secure the Southwest border and help target criminal enterprises trafficking in drugs, illegal weapons and money.
Guardsmen would serve until federal law enforcement agencies can recruit and train additional officers and agents to replace them, according to an Obama administration official.
But it was unknown how many troops would be deployed in each state, when that would occur and whether the needed funds would be slipped into a $59 billion war supplemental spending bill being considered in the Senate.
Texas Guardsmen have not been notified of deployment orders, and Gov. Rick Perry was taking a wait-and-see stance on the White House announcement.
Perry, a Republican, made a request for 1,000 Guardsmen for just the Texas border with Mexico in January 2009.
“We've still not received approval or denial of the governor's request, but we remain hopeful that the federal government will provide the resources that we've requested,” said Katherine Cesinger, the governor's spokeswoman in Austin.
Bill White, the former Houston mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said: “National Guard troops are not a long-term substitute for sustained federal commitment to border communities.”
An increase in kidnapping and violence along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona in recent months prompted officials there to also request a National Guard deployment.
Arizona Sens. John McCain, and Jon Kyl, both Republicans, have sought Guardsmen, as well as Rep. Gabriella Giffords, D-Ariz., who was the first to announce the president's deployment decision Tuesday.
The White House notified lawmakers of the National Guard deployment after Obama met with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill.
In light of the controversy over Arizona's new law expanding the ability of local police to check people's immigration status, Obama had urged the Republicans to tackle immigration reform, saying the effort would die without GOP support.
Republicans have made border security a prerequisite for supporting any comprehensive immigration reform.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the president's plan “comes up short.”
“Temporary fixes are no solution to long-term challenges,” Cornyn said in a prepared statement Tuesday.
The administration's plans for a National Guard deployment drew immediate support from five Texas congressmen, all Democrats, who represent U.S. border communities.
Obama's request includes funds to enhance security infrastructure and technology at the border, boost the number of federal agents under Justice and Homeland Security Departments assigned there, and share intelligence with state, local and tribal law enforcement, an administration official said.
The announcement came within days of a visit to Washington by Mexican President Felipe Calderón. Calderón urged Obama and Congress to ramp up efforts to fight the demand of illicit drugs in the United States and the smuggling of weapons to Mexico, which have armed drug cartels.
That sentiment was echoed in a statement released by the Mexican Embassy in Washington after the deployment was announced, which also cautioned that the National Guard should not be “linked to the enforcement of immigration laws.”
More than 22,700 people have died in Mexico due to drug gang violence since 2006 when Calderón ordered the military to confront the cartels. Three of those killed were people with ties to the U.S. consulate in Juarez.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have offered their own border security amendments to the supplemental spending bill.
McCain is seeking 6,000 National Guardsmen, Cornyn is seeking $2 billion for border security programs and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, wants $144 million for additional unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles on the border.
The Republican lawmakers said the spending would be paid for with unspent stimulus money in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a bill that passed without any GOP support.
Meanwhile, a Texas Army National Guard spokesman said they not been notified of deployment orders.
“We always stand ready to support the governor and the president,” said Chief Master Sgt. Gonda Moncada.
Houston Chronicle reporter R.G. Ratcliffe in Austin and Express-News staff writer Scott Huddleston in San Antonio contributed to this report.