The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense confirmed during a Tuesday morning conference call with members of Congress that the administration will be reducing the National Guard troop presence on the border with Mexico by 75 percent, according to Texas Republican Rep. Ted Poe.
The briefing featured U.S. Customs and Border Protection Assistant Commissioner David V. Aguilar, Border Patrol Chief Michael Fischer and DOD Assistant Secretary Paul Stockton.
The administration representatives revealed that the National Guard’s presence on the border will be reduced from 1,200 to 300 troops and their budget will decrease from $120 million to $60 million.
“It is a mistake,” Poe told TheDC. “Last week Jason Altmire, Democrat from Pennsylvania, and I sent a letter to the president asking him not to reduce the number of National Guard troops. I’ve always thought 1,200 wasn’t enough. In fact I introduced legislation to put 10,000 at the border.”
Poe pointed to statistics as the reason he opposes the planned reduction.
“GAO, the General Accounting Office, says the border is only 44 percent secure,” said Poe. “Well, if we only control 44 percent, who controls the other 56 percent? It’s not Mexico, it’s not the United States, well who is it? It’s the drug cartels. So its an unwise decision.”
DHS and DOD announced Tuesday that they will be transitioning to an approach more focused on mobile and aerial surveillance.
“The addition of aerial surveillance assets allows the National Guard to better support DHS by shifting surveillance from fixed sites to mobile ones that can quickly match the dynamic environment of the border — a significant enhancement in the ability to detect and deter illegal activity at the border — and provide greater support to the thousands of men and women involved in border security,” they explained in a Tuesday press release.
The administration pointed out that Border Patrol apprehensions, which they regard as a “key indicator of illegal immigration” decreased in the 2011 fiscal year to 340,252, down 53 percent since 2008 and one fifth of what they were at their peak in the 2000 fiscal year. Furthermore, since 2004 the Border Patrol has doubled in size to 21,444.
There were inklings about the possibility of significant National Guard troop reductions last week. At that point Poe and Altmire spearheaded a letter — with several other members — to President Barack Obama urging him to keep the troop levels at 1,200.
“The physical presence of the National Guard has been successful at deterring illegal crossings and violence, and should be maintained until the U.S. Border Control can increased its numbers and regain operational control of the majority of the U.S.-Mexico border,” they wrote.
When asked for comment, DHS presented a press release announcing an increase in aerial focus and continued partnership with DOD.
The transition will begin in January with aerial assets expected to be in place by March.