In addition to the troops, the funding will be used to increase Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security activities at the border with Mexico “to include increased agents, investigators, and prosecutors, as part of a multi-layered effort to target illicit networks trafficking in people, drugs, illegal weapons, and money,” an administration official said Tuesday.
The announcement seemed designed to blunt an amendment in the Senate by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to provide $250 million for deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops to the border. And the White House move was quickly denounced by Republicans, who criticized it as insufficient, and by immigration reform advocates, who accused the White House of engaging in “political theater.”
“It’s simply not enough. We need 6,000,” complained McCain, who is opposed by immigration foe J.D. Hayworth in a GOP primary.
“The guard troops have had a very salutary effect. That’s why we need 6,000 of them,” McCain said in a speech on the Senate floor. He said such troops were needed to head off violent incidents such as one in March where an Arizona rancher was allegedly killed by someone crossing the border illegally.
Just before word of the border aid package emerged Tuesday afternoon, McCain squared off with the president over the issue during the closed-door session at the Capitol. “We need to secure the borders first,” McCain said afterward. “He didn’t agree."
Later Tuesday, the White House released a toughly worded letter directly criticizing McCain’s proposal to dispatch 6,000 troops to the border.
“There is no modern precedent for Congress to direct the president to deploy troops in the manner sought by the Amendment,” National Security Adviser James Jones and Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan wrote to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.)
“It represents unwarranted interference with the Commander-in-Chief’s responsibilities to direct the employment of our Armed Forces and thus infringes on the President’s role in the management of the Total Force," they wrote.
Immigrants’ rights advocates, who have been grumbling for months about lackluster support from the White House for immigration reform legislation, said Obama’s decision to send 1,200 troops amounted to pandering that wouldn’t do much to solve the border area’s problems.
“Deploying additional National Guard without a clear strategy to end arms or drug smuggling is a response to tired talking points,” said Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum. “Without true immigration reform, the political theater will continue and billions will continue to be wasted on misguided border security measures.”
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