Arizona Gov. Hobbs to send National Guard troops to the border
By Bob Christie
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Gov. Katie Hobbs on Friday ordered National Guard soldiers to be placed near -- but not on -- the border, less than a month after Major Gen. Kerry Muehlenbeck, who heads the Guard, told lawmakers the ones who had previously been there weren't needed.
"We are stationing members of the National Guard, embedding them with the law enforcement and DPS along the Southern Arizona border, not at the border but in Southern Arizona communities to assist and augment law enforcement capabilities in Southern Arizona,'' Hobbs spokesman Christian Slater said. He had no answers to how many would be placed there.
But Muehlenbeck had made a request on Nov. 22 to actually shift funds out of $7.8 million in National Guard funding to instead support the governor's program to bus asylum seekers away from the border.
"National Guard support to Southern Arizona Law Enforcement has ended and the remaining fund balance of approximately $7,000,000 does not have a planned use,'' the general wrote in a letter to Republican lawmakers who head the House and Senate Appropriations committees. She also said $800,000 to maintain "chain of command resources'' was no longer needed for the same reason.
Hobbs on Friday also ordered the Department of Public Safety to boosts it presence in southern Arizona, including the near the Lukeville port of entry that was closed earlier this month. But none of the soldiers she is deploying will be used to reopen the border crossing, with Hobbs continuing to insist that should be paid for by the federal government.
All this comes on the heels of the Republican chairman of a legislative committee charged with overseeing funding requests throwing a monkey wrench into plans by the Democratic governor to shift $23 million in already-approved border security funding to other border uses -- including earmarking $8 million to continue busing migrants released by federal agents away from Arizona border communities.
Hobbs also asked the committee headed by Rep. David Livingston to boost direct funding for local law enforcement dealing with migration by nearly $5 million and to allocate $10 million to help build a new state emergency operations center in Phoenix.
But Livingston, a Peoria Republican, refused to consider the request even though the money currently being used to bus migrants will soon be depleted. He instead called for a more robust response from Hobbs to the border crisis.
Livingston said the request from the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs does nothing to address the real problem of thousands of immigrants arriving in the state each week. And he accused the Hobbs administration of obscuring the fact that it is actually dropping off many migrants at non-profit agencies in Tucson and metro Phoenix where few take up offers to be bused to other states.
DEMA provided documents to Livingston’s committee saying that more than 38,000 migrants had been bused away from the border since Hobbs took office last January. And it said it is doing so at a dramatically lower cost than the 3,177 asylum-seekers who were sent to other states in the final year of former Gov. Doug Ducey’s administration.
The administration says migrants spend a few days at non-governmental organizations in Douglas, Nogales, Yuma, Phoenix, Tucson or New Mexico before continuing on to other states or Washington, D.C.
"These funds are being used to transport asylum seekers who have been legally cleared by border patrol to in-state and out of state non-profit humanitarian partners who use separate funds to assist travelers to their final destinations,'' said Muehlenbeck. "Once migrants arrive at non-profit humanitarian partners the vast majority continue to travel out of state.''
But the agency also told lawmakers in a memo that it did not know how many actually completed travel out of state, although "it is believed'' that the majority of asylum seekers leave Arizona.
Livingston said fewer than half may do so.
"We want results. I'm willing to work with them,'' Livingston said of the Hobbs administration.
"But sending them on buses to Tucson and Phoenix where maybe 25% of them end up on a bus out of state is not acceptable,'' he continued. "That’s just moving a problem from one county to the next county, from one city to the next city, and not solving anything.''
Muehlenbeck said in the to Livingston and Sen. John Kavanagh that the $23 million would help local law enforcement and local communities deal with increased migration -- and said they've been pleading for the help. She wants approval to shift money in the current DEMA budget that is now earmarked for reimbursing local border agencies for immigration-related costs, to provide migrants healthcare and for technology investments -- money that currently isn’t being requested by local agencies and sits unused.
Livingston blamed the decision to remove 100 Guard soldiers for an increase in migration in Yuma and the remote Lukeville border crossing at the Mexican border. That site -- the direct route taken by many Arizonans headed to the Mexican beach community of Puerto Penasco, also known as Rocky Point -- was shut down earlier this month by federal officials who said the personnel assigned there were needed to help process a huge surge of immigrants in that region.
"They won’t admit that when they pulled off the 100-plus National Guard from the border in those two regions that it had any effect on those two regions or the sheriffs,'' Livingston said Friday.
"They are glossing this over, they are trying to make nice and they're not addressing the real issue because they are afraid of their radical progressive base,'' he said. "It's just that simple.''
Christian Slater, Hobbs' spokesman, scoffed at Livingston's contention that removing 100 National Guard troops led to the dramatic increase in immigrants crossing into remote parts of southern Arizona.
"That’s a nonsensical and desperate partisan attack,'' he said saying Livingston "knows better.''
Meanwhile, Hobbs met Friday with Alfonso Durazo, the governor of Sonora, the Mexican state just south of Arizona.
Slater said the meeting was designed to boost cooperation between the two governors. Durazo said in a social media post included discussions about now to reopen the Lukeville crossing.
"We agreed to coordinate efforts between both governments to expedite the reopening of the Lukeville-Sonoyta border port,'' he wrote. "We remain committed to always strengthening ties of communication and cooperation for the benefit of the people of Sonora.''
The spat between GOP lawmakers and Hobbs came to light Thursday, when the Joint Legislative Budget Committee chaired by Livingston, R-Peoria, met to approve what are usually routine state agency requests to spend money on specific projects or shift spending from one budget pot to to another.
Livingston announced at the start of the meeting that he had declined to put the DEMA request on the agenda because he had unanswered questions and wanted a more robust policy discussion.
"We want to make sure exactly what agencies are requesting when we’re putting it in this committee or any committee,'' Livingston said at Thursday’s meeting. "And I’m not comfortable with some of the policies that DEMA and the governor’s staff wanted to do. Just that direct.''
Aside from the request for more money to bus more asylum seekers elsewhere, Livingston defended delaying the $5 million that would help local sheriff’s and police deal with migration and the $10 million requested for the new emergency operations center, saying they were part of the larger issue. The state has been working to finalize plans for the new facility at the Guard’s Papago Park facility in east Phoenix, where staff coordinates responses to natural and other disasters and some border issues. Currently, a third of the staff work in temporary trailers at the facility.
But Livingston said the new facility may hit the chopping block.
"Maybe we need to stop that,'' he said. "Maybe we need to use those dollars either for the buses or the sheriff's or to fix the budget deficit that we have, which is well over a billion dollars.'' Legislative Democrats said Livingston was “playing politics” with needed funding.
"It's pretty clear that Republicans would rather perpetuate the crisis at the border for political purposes rather than take direct action or work together to address the problem," Rep. Lupe Contreras, who leads House Democrats, said in a statement released after the meeting. "We should be hearing the Governor's request today. But our colleagues across the aisle would rather point fingers and play politics."
But Livingston said it is not political for him.
"I’m trying hard to fix this for the state of Arizona and the citizens of Arizona,'' he said.
On X: @AZChristieNews