WASHINGTON (AP) - National Guard troops could be helping police the U.S. border within three weeks, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge told a senator Friday.
In a phone call to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Ridge said processing and deployment of the Guard troops will begin immediately.
The Justice Department, which oversees the Immigration and Naturalization Service, signed off on an agreement to use the troops this week. The Treasury Department, parent agency of the Customs Service, is expected to do the same Tuesday.
"There are two things that are important," Murray said. "One, that we get these people trained, and they get on the border; and secondly, that we replace them as quickly as possible with INS agents and Border Patrol, because this should not be a permanent solution."
She said Ridge told her the troops will be in place in three weeks "at the latest," sooner if states have troops identified for the assignment. Ridge's office could not be reached for comment.
The government will pay for the Guard troops and keep them under federal authority, taking command from the governors.
More than 1,500 troops could help with security at ports of entry, intelligence operations and cargo or vehicle inspections, among other tasks.
Just who will be in charge of the troops has been in question since Attorney General John Ashcroft announced in December that they would be placed at key crossings nationwide to provide extra support after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The National Guard Bureau, some members of Congress and others were opposed to keeping the troops under federal control, because they argued it would slow down the deployment and be more costly.