Government officials are showing off a site where National Guard troops have been deployed near the Mexican border, despite criticism that they will do nothing to stem the tide of illegal immigration.
The first troops began their mission on Aug. 30, and no member of the media has been allowed to see firsthand what they've been doing. Border Patrol agents are set to take reporters to one of the several sites Friday where the troops are acting as what the agency calls "extra eyes and ears."
The troops have no arrest power, and the guns they carry are only for self-defense. Their mission is to remain at "strategic locations" and look for and report any suspected illegal immigrants to the Border Patrol, whose agents make the arrest.
The troops are part of President Barack Obama's plan to beef up border security by stationing 1,200 National Guard troops along the border from California to Texas; all the troops are in place in the four border states, performing the same mission.
But many question just how big an impact the troops will have at the porous border, especially in Arizona. The state is the busiest crossing point for illegal immigrants, and the Border Patrol says between 40 percent and 50 percent of all immigrant arrests each year on the border are made here.
Arizona Republican Rep. Russell Pearce has been a sharp critic of the deployment and the National Guard's inability to make arrests, calling the troops a "welcome wagon" for illegal immigrants.
Pearce said the only way to stop illegal immigrants is to put 30,000 troops on the border with arrest power.
"They're military, and instead of letting them do their job, we let them down there with typewriter ribbon and oil cans," said Pearce, who wrote Arizona's controversial immigration legislation. "We send them overseas in harm's way but we don't let them defend our own borders in a proper manner?
"They've got political handcuffs on them," he added.
Pearce said the deployment is not much different from the time President George W. Bush's deployed 6,000 National Guard troops to the border in June 2006. Those troops also had no arrest power and were pulled out in July 2008.
One incident during their deployment disturbed Pearce. National Guard troops backed off and called in federal agents as gunmen approached their Arizona post.
While supporters of the troops' actions said the Guard members did as they were supposed to, Pearce questioned the point of having troops on the border if they can't confront such dangers.
"It's embarrassing to the military, it's embarrassing to America, and it's a shameful response by the federal government," he said.
Southern Arizona rancher Ed Ashurst said as far as he's concerned, the Guard deployment hasn't affected border security one bit.
"I don't see them and I don't know anybody that has seen them. Where are they?" said Ashurst, whose property neighbors that of slain rancher Robert Krentz, who was gunned down in March while checking water lines on his property near the border.
Authorities believe _ but have never produced substantive proof _ that an illegal immigrant, likely a scout for drug smugglers, was to blame for Krentz's killing.
"My family's in danger, my property is trashed, my home has been burglarized multiple times and I don't see the federal government doing anything to help me or my neighbors," Ashurst said.
Fred Solop, a pollster at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, said the Obama administration deployed the troops to send a clear message to the American public that the federal government is responding to the immigration issue.
"There's a symbolic value to them being there, but I think there's some actual value in the work they're doing," Solop said. "Could they be doing more? The immigration voices in Arizona would like to see more, but will they do that? That has yet to be seen."