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US to Send 1,200 National Guard Troops to Border With Mexico in August

Meredith Buel

The United States says it will send 1,200 National Guard troops to the country's border with Mexico next month.  This comes amid concerns about escalating violence and efforts to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and narcotics into the U.S. and weapons into Mexico.  

U.S. National Guard troops will begin to deploy along the Mexican border on August 1 and they are expected to stay a year to support federal border patrol agents already in the region.

The troops will be distributed among four border states - Arizona, Texas, California and New Mexico.

Alan Bersin is the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection at the Department of Homeland Security here in Washington. "The fact of the matter is that violence has been proceeding and escalating in Mexico as the result of the civil war among the cartels and the struggle between the government of Mexico and those cartels.  So we see this as part of an ongoing threat that we have been cooperating deeply with the government of Mexico to confront," he said.

Violence along the U.S.-Mexico border has escalated in recent years.  Bersin says illegal crossings are on the decline, but that seizures of weapons and drugs have increased.

In Mexico, northern border areas have been worst hit by drug violence that has left nearly 25,000 people dead since the government launched a crackdown on organized crime more than three years ago.

In recent days, nearly two dozen people have been killed in assaults, including a car bombing that targeted police -- the first attack of its kind in the country's drug war.

Homeland Security's Alan Bersin said "This latest incident is one in a long string of violent incidents.  The precise nature of it is one that we need to work with our Mexican colleagues and counterparts to discover exactly what it was and what implications it may have."

The Obama administration has pledged to ask Congress for $600 million to hire 1,000 more border patrol agents and to purchase unmanned aerial detection systems.

National Guard Bureau Chief, General Craig McKinley, says the troops will be armed, but that they will only use their weapons defensively. "They will be taking the lead from the law enforcement personnel who they will be assisting in that support role.  Entry identification teams will fill a variety of roles, depending on the situation.  But they certainly will be deployed on the United States side of the border, following the rules of engagement as set forth by the lead agencies here," he said.

Sending the National Guard troops follows a decision by the governor of Arizona to sign a law requiring local police to check the immigration status of people they suspect are in the country illegally.

The Obama administration has filed a lawsuit to get the law overturned, arguing that immigration enforcement is a federal, rather than a state, responsibility.

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