Chertoff: Guard deployment helping greatly on border security
By ARTHUR H. ROTSTEIN
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff visited Thursday with Border Patrol and National Guard troops and officials here to see firsthand results of the commitment President George W. Bush made in May to place 6,000 National Guard troops in non-enforcement support roles from Texas to California.
"I'm delighted to say the National Guard lived up to and exceeded their testing by the president," Chertoff said of Bush's Operation Jump Start, "and it's added real value."
Chertoff's trip was at least the second to the Arizona border in about 15 months. The Arizona border is considered the most vulnerable stretch of the 2,000-mile (3,220-kilometer) southern border to illegal entry and remains the most heavily trafficked area for smuggling of illegal immigrants.
Chertoff, whose attention in recent days has been focused largely on dealing with British authorities' foiling of an alleged plot to bomb trans-Atlantic flights from Britain, also said there has been no indication of any terrorists crossing the southern border.
"There's no question that the No. 1 priority for the Border Patrol, the National Guard and everybody else involved in border security is let's keep dangerous people from crossing the border," Chertoff said.
More than 900 troops currently are working side-by-side with Border Patrol agents along the Arizona-Mexico border, freeing up agents. The Guard jobs include working with cameras or manning observation posts near the border to detect illegal immigrants.
Vehicle maintenance, maintaining and building roads and fences, conducting aerial surveillance and stopping drug smugglers are all "real contributions in the field that really help the Border Patrol" in executing their mission, Chertoff said.
"Bottom line is results, and they're having tremendous impact," he said.
The presence of guardsmen has freed up 360 agents nationally to return to their core mission; there have been 4,700 apprehensions related to Operation Jump Start. Agents have also seen a 43 percent reduction in apprehensions along the border, because "smugglers now realize there is a substantial additional presence on the border and that is beginning to deter them," Chertoff said.
But he also said the task is not over because smugglers of contraband, people and drugs who make millions of dollars will not quit easily.
"We're making it harder and harder for them to conduct their business, and if they move somewhere else we're going to chase them somewhere else."
Tucson Sector Chief Mike Nicley said several guardsmen working as entry observers have been assaulted by rock-throwers from Mexico, but not hurt.
Within the next month or so, Chertoff said, a high-tech contract will be awarded to provide added sensor, fiber optics, imagery and camera capabilities, along with enhanced communications for more rapid response by Border Patrol agents.
Chertoff also said there has been a dramatic increase in interior enforcement and felony criminal prosecutions against employers of illegal immigrants.
But the nation also must act to address the economic draw that makes people willing to cross searing deserts to enter the country, Chertoff said _ in again calling for a temporary guest worker program that Bush has endorsed.
"Security is all about comprehensiveness," said Chertoff. "Security's got to be taking place everywhere. We've got to keep our security high at the airport ... we can't ignore security elsewhere.
Last week, Chertoff ordered airliners bound from Britain placed on the highest threat level _ red alert _ for four days after British authorities intervened in an alleged plot to bomb trans-Atlantic flights from London.
It's not clear when the threat level for airlines might be lowered from orange, the second-highest.
Those steps will include a requirement as early as next year for airlines to turn over passenger names to be checked against the government's "no-fly" terror watch list before international flights take off for U.S. cities.
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