Mixed reviews in San Diego for president’s plan
SAN DIEGO (AP) – Miguel Diaz says sending National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border is a mixed bag.
The good news is that fewer Mexican migrants may die trying to sneak across the border in remote mountains and deserts, Diaz said Monday after waiting 90 minutes to cross the border from his home in Tijuana, Mexico, to his construction job in San Diego. The bad news, he says, is that the military may be more prone to violence.
Diaz’s remarks reflected ambivalence along California’s border with Mexico to President Bush’s plan to dispatch the military to the border. Some said it would restore order; others said it would heighten tension. Some said both.
“I’d call it 50-50,” said Diaz, 24, standing on a street corner waiting for a friend to drive him to work from San Diego’s San Ysidro border crossing, the world’s busiest.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said governors in border states had not been consulted, and that Bush’s plan left many questions unanswered.
“It remains unclear what impact only 6,000 National Guard troops will have on securing the border,” said Schwarzenegger in a statement after Bush outlined his plan late Monday. “I am concerned that asking National Guard troops to guard our nation’s border is a Band-Aid solution and not the permanent solution we need.”
Earlier Monday, Schwarzenegger said the war in Iraq had already put the Guard under “tremendous stress” and that California may need troops in case of fire, earthquake or flood.
“The reason we have … National Guardsmen is to protect the state or in the case of war,” he said at an elementary school in Oceanside, about 35 miles north of San Diego.
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, accused Bush of playing politics with National Guard troops stretched thin by war in Iraq.
“To deploy them to patrol our borders in my view is just a despicable way for the president to try and win over and pander to the right at a time when we really need to be looking at comprehensive immigration reform,” Nunez said.
Tom Brundy, who says migrants trample through his alfalfa farm along the border in Calexico, about 120 miles east of San Diego, would welcome troops. He said it would help lower the death toll among migrants trying to cross, which reached about 500 last year.
“The Border Patrol is overwhelmed and they need help,” said Brundy, who supports Bush’s proposal authorizing temporary workers. “Many in Washington say, ‘Hire 1,000 agents,’ but do you know how long it would take to hire and train them?”
Calexico Mayor Alex Perrone disagreed, calling the Guard presence “an act of aggression” against the Mexican people.
The California National Guard has received no information about whether any units will be assigned to the border, either in California or other states.
“We don’t have anything official, and there’s a ton of speculation,” said spokesman Maj. Jon Siepmann.
Aida Gasdelum, who works at a health clinic in San Diego, said the military would create an unnecessary state-of-war atmosphere.
“It’s going to rob us of our peace,” said Gasdelum, 58, sitting on a trolley bench at the San Ysidro border crossing.
Armando Trujillo, who commutes daily from Tijuana to a job repairing Navy ships in San Diego, said the Guard would keep in check the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps and other civilian volunteer groups that began patrolling the border last year.
“It’s not a good thing, but it’s better to have the Army than some other group,” he said.
Several border crossers said the Guard would be little help in San Diego, where the Border Patrol has had a massive presence since a government crackdown in the 1990s pushed migrant traffic into remote mountains and deserts.
“Look around,” Trujillo said in a parking lot next to the San Ysidro border crossing, “they would have nothing to do here. It’s very quiet.”
Associated Press Writers Allison Hoffman in Oceanside and Don Thompson and Aaron C. Davis in Sacramento contributed to this report.
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