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Arizona governor wants the federal government to pay for sending troops to Lukeville

The closure of the small but vital Lukeville Port of Entry on Arizona's southern border continues to have ripple effects today. Over the weekend, Gov. Katie Hobbs went down to Lukeville and called on the federal government to do more to secure the border. 

"It is absolutely straining our capacity which is why we have continued to talk to the feds about the need for additional support. And I'll again share my continued frustration at this situation and their lack of response that's costing the state of Arizona taxpayers. And our capacity is at its limit," Hobbs said.

Lukeville is the main port through which Arizonans cross to get to the beach town of Puerto Peñasco, or Rocky Point, which has already been hit hard by the temporary closure. 

The Border Patrol announced last week it would close the port to shuffle officers around to deal with the unprecedented numbers of migrants arriving to the U.S. border wide. 

Now, Gov. Hobbs wants to send 243 Arizona National Guard troops already in southern Arizona to the border to operate the closed border crossing — and she wants the federal government to pay for it. 

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services has been covering it all. The Show spoke with him about whether it's possible for National Guard troops to reopen a Port of Entry and run it.

'Simply putting people at a port of entry doesn't mean they know anything at all about how to run a port of entry'

HOWARD FISCHER: Well, it's certainly possible. I mean, remember these are troops that are not under her command because they were federalized.

So they are under the command of the Department of Homeland Security. So theoretically, the Biden administration could say, well, OK, we don't need them to do what they're doing and we could actually use them to open the border.

Now, there are two basic problems with this. First of all, we don't know what they're doing. They may be doing other help along the border, not just here, but they could be in New Mexico, they could be somewhere else trying to help out with law enforcement. Then there's the practical issue. Simply putting people at a port of entry doesn't mean they know anything at all about how to run a port of entry. We're not just talking about opening a gate, we're talking about: What documents can you accept? What about what you can bring into the country? You know, can you bring in baloney or can you bring in potatoes all the rest of that stuff? It takes training to do that.

And the governor said, well, they'll be under the supervision of somebody from customs and border protection, which ignores the fact that they were pulled off of customs and border protection to help out border patrol to processing migrants. So there's nobody there to supervise them.

So the whole set of, of, of issues there, but it was a good political opportunity. And then of course, she went down to the border and her olive colored shirt to cut a video.

And and this is a politics.

So she also sent a letter to the president basically calling on these changes with the National Guard, but also asking the federal government to reimburse the state of Arizona for a very specific amount, like $512 million and some change. Where did that number come from?

FISCHER: Oh, I actually asked the governor's press aide whether he had pulled that just out of thin air or some other place. And he said, oh, no, no, we, we know where it's coming from. They have yet to provide specifics for us.

We do know that the state has spent a certain amount of money bussing migrants who were on the border back East. Now, the governor says she's not doing what Governor [Greg] Abbott is doing in Texas, which is just simply dumping them off in Times Square or, or, or somewhere else. But these are people who have folks there, they're working with, with community groups. So we're not just leaving them without any ability to, to fend for themselves, but they'll actually have somebody there to greet them, but that has cost some money. So that's a piece of it.

Everything else, well, look, as somebody who's looked at state budgets, there are lies, damn lies and statistics. So how much of law enforcement could be blamed on migration if in fact, the, the highway patrol is stopping people coming up for speeding if they happen to be a migrant. Does that make it a migration issue or is that simply law enforcement?

This isn't the first governor who's billed, the, the feds. Janet Napolitano billed the feds. I don't seem to recall her getting a check. Doug Ducey billed the feds, you know, Jan Brewer billed the feds.

Now, there's another political reason behind this, which is suddenly the Democrats have figured out that perhaps Joe Biden is a political liability on the issue of the border. And so they've been much more willing to speak out and to blame the Biden administration and build the Biden administration so they can put some breathing room between them and the president, particularly since his popularity in Arizona is, you know, somewhat underwater.

It's a very interesting moment in the politics around immigration right now, you are right. And just last week, like, Hobbs had dismissed the idea of calling on the National Guard, right? When other Republican leaders in the state had said that's what we need to do. What changed?

FISCHER: Well, she said, what changed is, oh, I don't want to put the Guard there at our expense even if in fact, this is hurting folks in Arizona and certainly hold folks in Rocky Point, who aren't her political constituents, but we'll get the feds to pay for it. And I think she kind of realized the feds were not gonna pay for it. So this way, she got to say we're not gonna send our troops to the border at our expense. But if the feds are willing to do that, we think they should do that, knowing full well that the Biden administration is unlikely to suddenly move all those Guard people. The 243 Arizona Guardsmen who are somewhere else doing something else down to the border to do a job that they're not trained to do. So, it became very politically expedient.

There's precedent for this though, right? Sending the guard down to the border. Tell us about the history of that in Arizona. She's definitely not the first governor to talk about this.

FISCHER: Oh, definitely not. I mean, even again, going back to Napolitano, Ducey, they have sent Guard troops to the border, but they were there to help out the Department of Public Safety, to help out the sheriff's department, to the extent that they did any sort of border work. For example, they would have Guard soldiers looking at monitors because they have all these, these towers and monitors and they need somebody to do that to the extent that, that freed up Border Patrol people to actually go out and be in the streets. Same sort of thing about, being lookouts at certain points where they know folks are crossing again, you free up the Border Patrol officers who understand the laws and the federal laws of who can come, how they can come in where they can be. And these people became the eyes and ears. That's something quite different than actually having the guard on the border.

Now, obviously, we've seen what's happened in Texas. They have their little Operation Lone star and, and, and Governor Abbott there is trying to make a lot of hay out of that. But you've also seen that he's had fights with the federal government when he put those buoys in the river, and the federal government says, no, this isn't your job. Now, Abbott obviously is being a Republican, is more interested in criticizing the Biden administration.

But I think that Katie Hobbs has figured out, you know, we really need to kind of attack the Biden administration. Look at the fact that Senators [Mark] Kelly and [Krysten] Sinema have also lashed out the Biden administration. I think again, they're trying to show we, we can, we recognize this is an issue in Arizona. We recognize he's our president, but we think we have some room to criticize him here.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.