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Arizona governor seeks help in getting border troops

PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer urged a U.S. Senate committee Monday to help seek funding for sending 250 additional National Guard troops to the Arizona-Mexico border to assist authorities trying to curb violence committed by immigrant and drug smugglers.

The Republican governor was seeking help from the committee even though she said the Department of Defense has effectively denied her request for more troops at Arizona’s 370-mile southern boundary, where 150 National Guard troops are now working as part of a long-standing border assistance program.

“We are not seeing the help we need,” Brewer said.

The Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a field hearing in Phoenix, the nation’s busiest immigrant and marijuana smuggling hub, to gather information from state and local officials about the effects of trafficking violence on their communities.

State and local officials said the federal government hasn’t done enough to combat smuggling and related violence, leaving communities vulnerable to a litany of crimes committed by traffickers and a heavy bill from the social costs of a porous border.

The crimes cited by officials included immigrant and drug smugglers who kidnap their rivals for ransom in Phoenix, some human smugglers who sexually assault customers, traffickers who carry out home invasions in Tucson, and drug cartel associates who sneak guns from Arizona into Mexico.

“It all comes from our borders not being secured,” Brewer said.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was pleased with the Obama administration’s plans to dispatch nearly 500 more federal agents to the U.S.-Mexico border, but said that wasn’t enough.

The denial of Brewer’s request for more border troops was unacceptable, McCain said. “We must do more,” McCain said.

The troops already at the border are part of a long-standing program in which National Guard troops assist in anti-drug efforts and help federal agents inspect vehicles at ports of entry.

The Bush administration sent thousands of Guard troops to the border to perform support duties so that federal border authorities would be freed up to focus on border security. Bush’s buildup began in 2006 and ended last year.

Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever, whose jurisdiction includes 83 miles of border, said smugglers don’t have much regard for police officers, but they view the military differently.

“They do have a great deal of respect (for) or fear of the military,” Dever said.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said smugglers who bring drugs and immigrants into the United States from Mexico are a problem for both governments to confront.

Goddard said smugglers return to Mexico with cash that fuels their operations and guns that are bought from American weapons dealers and used in Mexico’s war against drug cartels.

The attorney general advocated a stronger crackdown on people who illegally buy guns on behalf of cartels and a closer examination of vehicles driving through American ports of entry into Mexico.

“The carnage in Mexico is being facilitated by a flood of arms coming from this country,” Goddard said.

Several officials suggested that the United States and Mexico ought to do a better job of monitoring border traffic to keep ill-gotten money and guns from heading to Mexico.

“I have a new focus on how we are going to monitor and checkpoint southbound traffic both to try to diminish the flow of weapons to the Mexican drug cartels and cash,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Independent from Connecticut who is the leader of committee.

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