WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government said on Friday that it will keep National Guard troops on the border with Mexico at least through September to help crackdown on illegal immigration and violence spawned by the drug trade.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said the administration extended the temporary deployment of National Guard troops along the border through September 30, reflecting appropriations by Congress for the current fiscal year.
"The National Guardsmen are providing support to law enforcement functions aimed at stemming northbound and southbound illicit smuggling and flows of people, drugs, weapons and bulk cash," department spokesman Matthew Chandler said.
The soldiers had been deployed last summer and the extension of the troops had been widely expected.
President Barack Obama signed in August a $600 million bill to tighten security along the porous nearly 2,000 mile border. It includes hiring of 1,500 Border Patrol agents, customs inspectors and law enforcement officials.
The White House initially sent some 1,200 National Guard troops to help fill the breach while border patrol agents were trained.
Obama has been under pressure from both Republicans and his fellow Democrats to tighten security along the southwest border as violence related to the drug cartels in Mexico has escalated, claiming thousands of lives.
Mexican officials have said that the United States is still not doing enough to stop weapons from U.S. gun shops reaching the cartels in Mexico, fueling an escalating drugs war.
Chandler said the department is actively hiring new personnel and taking other steps to improve border security, and that the National Guard "is acting as a critical bridge" in the meantime.
Since their deployment, National Guard soldiers have assisted U.S. Customs and Border Protection with the seizure of more than 14,000 pounds of drugs and the identification of illegal border crossers, leading to the apprehension of more than 7,000 illegal immigrants, he said.
(Reporting by James Vicini and Jeremy Pelofsky, Editing by Anthony Boadle)