Immigration
4:20 pm
Tue December 20, 2011

More Helicopters, Fewer Troops to Patrol Border

Surveillance helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft will take the place of about 900 U.S. National Guard troops on the southern border as early as next year, according to information released today by the federal government.

The White House announced last week that it planned to reduce the number of troops to concentrate instead on an aerial strategy, something the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said today would enhance its relationship with the U.S. Department of Defense. Only 300 active troops will remain on the border.

The decision, however, sparked a party-line split among members of Texas’ delegation in Washington. U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, criticized the move as irresponsible and assailed the president on immigration policy.

“It doesn’t make sense to take National Guard troops off the border when less than half of the border is secure,” he said. “But if the Obama administration really wants to secure the border, they need to enforce all immigration laws, not just a select few. We could also turn off the jobs magnet that encourages illegal immigration by signing a federal E-Verify requirement into law.”  

U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, sent the White House a letter last week explaining that he “had grave concerns about this proposed shift in policy."

Meanwhile, border congressmen Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, applauded the move as an effective cost-saving measure.

“Now, with record-high Border Patrol agent staffing levels and low unauthorized immigrant apprehension rates, we need to start looking at more cost-effective and efficient ways to spend our homeland security dollars,” Cuellar said in a statement.

Reyes, a former U.S. Border Patrol Sector Chief, said, “I have expressed my desire that any future partnerships between the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense should focus less on boots on the ground and more on proven, practical strategies that wisely use limited government resources to provide support to our existing Border Patrol agents on the ground." 

The Department of Homeland Security reported earlier this month that apprehensions on the southwest border hit their lowest levels in decades. About 340,250 illegal immigrants were apprehended nationwide last fiscal year, compared to 463,380 in 2010, about a 26 percent drop. There were about 327,580 apprehensions on the southwest border, including about 119,000 in Texas.

Cuellar's office said the defense department allocated $60 million for aerial surveillance support, which includes OH-58 Kiowa helicopters, UH-72 Lakota helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, such as the RC-26. The 300 troops will be deployed to areas deemed a threat by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The DHS said the aerial surveillance will begin in January, and additional aircraft will be delivered in March.

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