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GUARD TO HEAD FOR BORDER DUTY ARNOLD `RELUCTANTLY' BOWS TO BUSH.

Byline: HARRISON SHEPPARD Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has ``reluctantly'' agreed with President George W. Bush's request to send California National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to help federal agents, he said Thursday.

Schwarzenegger said he decided to comply with the federal request because he is concerned about border security, including terrorists, undocumented immigrants and drug smugglers trying to sneak into California.

``It's not my preference to send the National Guard to do this mission,'' he said. ``But under the circumstances, (we are doing it) to help the federal government to secure our borders because that is our No. 1 concern. I'm extremely concerned about potential terrorists sneaking across that border.''

The 1,000 Guard troops will be unarmed most of the time and deployed in a support role -- building roads, repairing vehicles and operating surveillance cameras -- rather than directly patrolling the border and detaining smugglers and illegal immigrants.

Their presence is expected to free up more U.S. Border Patrol agents from those support roles, allowing them to perform more direct border enforcement duties.

The governor's decision comes more than two weeks after Bush asked four border states to deploy 6,000 Guard troops to help agents. The president has the power to federalize the troops and order such a move but has so far asked states to voluntarily cooperate.

Bush's request has met with resistance from California lawmakers, who expressed concerns it would take Guard troops away from critical duties such as responding to natural disasters and would create a potentially dangerous militarization of the border.

Schwarzenegger had also expressed logistical concerns but said Thursday that most of his questions have now been resolved.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, disagreed with the governor's decision.

``With fire season staring us in the eyes, there should be no rush to send California's National Guard to the border for an unfocused mission designed to provide political cover for the Bush administration instead of a permanent solution to border security,'' Nunez said in a prepared statement.

Both candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Controller Steve Westly and Treasurer Phil Angelides, agreed with the criticism on similar grounds, linking Schwarzenegger politically to Bush and saying the troops are needed elsewhere to respond to natural disasters.

At a state legislative hearing Wednesday, lawmakers expressed concerns that the state had not fully studied the impact of deploying the troops and what effect it would have if they are needed in case of a disaster elsewhere in the state.

The state Office of Emergency Services said it would run through scenarios to determine the possible impact on disaster response.

Schwarzenegger said the costs, estimated at $6 million to $8 million per month, will be fully reimbursed by the federal government.

The troops could be sent to the border as early as July 15, and the agreement calls for them to withdraw by Dec. 31, 2008, even if the federal government has not met its goal of hiring 6,000 new Border Patrol agents by then.

Guard officials said the troops will be asked to volunteer for the border duty, rather than be ordered, and they have already identified 700 volunteers.

While the federal government has suggested two- to three-week rotations, Schwarzenegger said that does not make sense to him, comparing it to rotating surgeons in and out of an operation every two to three minutes.

Instead, the majority of California National Guard troops will be asked to rotate every six to 12 months, though a smaller number of specialized units might rotate every two to three weeks. National Guard officials said the force overall has about 20,000 troops, including 2,200 stationed overseas.

With the 1,000 going to the border -- to join about 145 that have previously been assigned to the border region to assist with customs, drug enforcement and the Border Patrol -- Guard officials said they feel they have enough remaining troops to handle a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

harrison.sheppard(at)dailynews.com

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 2, 2006
Words:669
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