Troops will stay along border for summer

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has extended the deployment of 1,200 National Guard troops along the southwest border for an additional three months.

The 1,200 National Guardsmen sent to assist the Border Patrol in August 2010 were scheduled to withdraw at the end of June, but have been ordered to remain in place until Sept. 30, according to Matthew Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

The move is intended to help prevent illegal border crossings and stop shipments of cash moving south from drug sales while homeland security adds more border patrols, fences and sensors in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

National Guard troops are not authorized to stop smugglers or make arrests, and instead have acted as lookouts for Border Patrol and provided logistical and intelligence support, freeing up more front-line law enforcement officers to stop cross-border traffic.

The troops were sent to the border last summer as a temporary surge of manpower after Congress approved $600 million for DHS to hire 1,000 additional Border Patrol agents, 250 officers at ports of entry and 250 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

The politically popular surge of manpower and funds comes as the number of illegal immigrants coming into the U.S. is declining rapidly. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, roughly 300,000 illegal immigrants crossed the border annually between 2007 and 2009, down from about 850,000 annually from 2000 to 2005.

DHS is spending part of its cash infusion on new mobile camera towers, fencing and increasing the number of Predator B surveillance drone flights along the southwest border.

Currently three Border Patrol drones fly out of Sierra Vista, Ariz., and one is based in Corpus Christi, Texas.