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Arizona Gov. Hobbs wants feds to pay for border troops and operations

Katie Hobbs
Katie Hobbs

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Gov. Katie Hobbs said she's willing to have members of the Arizona National Guard on the border to help deal with migrants -- and even reopen the Lukeville port of entry -- but not on her dime.
And she wants the Biden administration to reimburse Arizona $512 million for what she claims the state has spent on border operations, ranging from law enforcement to her busing migrants elsewhere in the country "due to the federal government's failure to secure our border.''
Hobbs provided no breakdown on how she came up with that figure. But what it does include is financing busing who have crossed the border to other states, a program that has moved more than 26,000 out of Arizona at a cost of $5.7 million.
The governor is planning to visit Lukeville Saturday to get briefed on the situation there. And she also is allocating $5 million to step up National Guard coordination with local law enforcement if the border crossing is not reopened.
But Hobbs said there is a simple solution.
In a letter Friday to President Biden, the governor noted there are 243 state Guard troops already on federal active duty in southern Arizona. She wants the president to reassign them Lukeville where they would operate the border crossing.
Customs and Border Protection shuttered the port of entry on Monday to redirect the staff there to help the Border Patrol process the flood of migrants who are asking for asylum.
The governor's desire to reopen the port with Arizona National Guard soldiers a departure from statements she made less than a week ago when she dismissed a request by Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, to have the state run the port of entry. She said at the time the solution is for the federal government to "do its job and secure the border,'' saying if Washington provided more resources to hire agents, there would be no need for the closure.
And now?
"The safety of our citizens and the prosperity of our economy are intertwined,'' Hobbs wrote to Biden.
"The recent decision to close the Lukeville port of entry has led to an unmitigated humanitarian crisis in the area and has put Arizona's safety and commerce at risk,'' the governor said. "Our pots of entry are essential to our state's economy, and it is vital that they be properly staffed and resourced to continue to fuel economic growth in the state.''
What's different, said gubernatorial press aide Christian Slater, is who picks up the tab.
"The Biden administration says that they need manpower because they don't have enough manpower to both process migrants and keep the port of entry open,'' he said. "So we are offering manpower to reopen the port of entry.''
Only thing is, those soldiers that Hobbs is offering the president are not under her control but are under the command of the Department of Defense.
"We are asking him to do it,'' Slater responded.
And then there's the fact that those 243 soldiers activated under federal control already are performing other border-related functions. There was no immediate response from U.S. Northern Command on what those soldiers are now doing.
All that also assumes that the soldiers actually could operate the port of entry.
That includes the ability to identify the documents needed to enter the country and what kinds of items can be brought here legally, all of which are spelled out in federal laws and rules. But Slater said they would be operating under the "supervision'' of federal officials.
That, however, presumes that CBP has staff available: The whole purpose of the closure was to free up those operating the crossing -- 23 according to one report -- to deal with migrants. Slater brushed aside that concern.
"You don't need 23 people to supervise,'' he said.
But Hobbs remains adamant she won't be using her power as commander in chief of the state Guard to deploy soldiers at state expense.
There is, however, precedent for state deployment.
Her predecessor, Republican Doug Ducey, sent Guard troops to the border in 2018 to assist federal agents. The soldiers were assigned duties like helping with secondary inspections at commercial border crossings, doing things like operating X-ray machines.
And that was before the latest flood of more than 2,000 people crossing the border daily in the Tucson sector alone.
House Speaker Ben Toma added his voice Friday, saying there is a role for the Guard along the border, if not assisting federal agencies than at least helping out local police and sheriffs. And the Peoria Republican faulted Hobbs for refusing to do even that.
"Republicans in the Legislature specifically funded a mission of the National Guard to provide support to law enforcement on the border,'' he said in a prepared statement. "Gov. Hobbs cut that mission short to instead aid in the transportation and housing of illegal aliens.''
His charges are based on how the state was supposed to use $209 million originally appropriated in 2022 for the Border Security Fund. Of that total, about $20 million was allocated to have Guard soldiers and airmen on state active duty provide support to law enforcement in Cochise, Maricopa, Pinal, Santa Cruz and Yuma counties.
Slater said there are two flaws in what Toma is saying.
One, he said, is that the state is not paying for housing any migrants.
More to the point, Slater said the governor did nothing illegal by diverting funds to instead bus migrants elsewhere.
In fact, a provision in the budget for the current fiscal year, enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislature, says that dollars deposited into the Border Security Fund can also be used for a laundry list of other purposes beyond preventing entry into this country of those who are not here legally.
And Hobbs said she is using the funds to put migrants on buses to ship them elsewhere in the country.
The governor said, however, what she is doing -- an extension of the program that Ducey started before she took office in January -- is far different than what is being done by Texas Gov. Abbott who, under the banner of Operation Lone Star, has sent more than 50,000 migrants to New York City, Washington D.C. and Chicago. That has provoked outrage from the Democratic mayors of those cities.
"We're certainly not sending people just randomly to places,'' she said. "We're sending them where they need to go.''
That, Hobbs said, is why she has not gotten complaints from leaders in those other states.
"We're coordinating with folks on the ground,'' the governor said.
"We're not just randomly sending people,'' she said. "We're getting folks to as close to their destination as possible where they have sponsors, where they have support, where they have resources.''
Hobbs on Friday joined with other Democratic officials across the nation in lashing out at the Biden administration for failing to address the problems at 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,'' she said.
"I'll again share my continued frustration at this situation and their lack of response that's costing the state of Arizona taxpayers,'' Hobbs continued. "And our capacity is at its limit right now.''
On X and Threads: @azcapmedia