By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Declaring an emergency in six counties, Gov. Doug Ducey said Tuesday he is going to put 250 Arizona National Guard soldiers along the southern border.
In a video press release, the governor said the troops will be there to help provide support for state and local law enforcement "as the nation experiences a rapid increase in apprehensions and migrant children in federal custody.'' Ducey intends to provide up to $25 million in initial funding.
"The situation in our border communities is just as bad -- if not worse -- than the coverage we've been seeing,'' the governor said in the prepared video.
And Ducey, who has taken a lead role among Republicans on border issues, said it's the president's fault, saying there have been "very real consequences of the Biden administration's failed policies.''
The governor mentioned there have been more than 170,000 apprehensions along the border since the beginning of the year, with almost 19,000 unaccompanied minors taken into custody. And that is higher than figures in prior years.
"The numbers don't lie,'' he said. "This surge is a direct result of the bad policies coming out of Washington, D.C.''
But what Ducey did not say is that there has been a steady increase in illegal crossings for nearly a year -- back into the Trump administration -- after they dropped following the COVID-19 outbreak. In fact, Customs and Border Protection reported that crossings during the last three months of 2020 were higher than at any similar point during the Trump administration.
Ducey, who chose to make the announcement via video rather than at a press conference where he could be asked questions, said state action is needed now.
"Local law enforcement and mayors are calling out for help,'' the governor said in his video.
"Citizens in our border communities are concerned for their safety,'' he continued. "And nonprofits left to pick up the pieces of broken federal policies are strained.''
The emergency covers Cochise, Maricopa, Pima, Pinal, Santa Cruz and Yuma counties. And it authorizes the adjutant general to mobilize all or part of the Guard "as is determined necessary to assist in the protection of life and property throughout the state.''
And to underline the need, the governor said he is going to Yuma on Wednesday to get more details from community leaders and local law enforcement about what they are seeing on the ground.
This is the governor's second trip to the border in as many months. Last month he flew to Douglas for a press conference right at the border fence surrounded almost exclusively with other Republican officials.
According to Ducey, the soldiers will assist with medical operations in detention centers, install and maintain border cameras, monitor and collect data from public safety cameras, and analyze satellite imagery for current trends in smuggling corridors.
Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels said that's exactly what he needs.
"The big thing they're going to do for us is do non-law enforcement functions,'' he said.
Some of that, Dannels said, is providing help in the jails. But he also said that Guard soldiers can watch the system of cameras he has set up "so we have true eyes on what's going on out there.''
"So they'll be relieving my guys who do that ... so my deputies can focus more on the enforcement aspect,'' Dannels said.
Ducey said soldiers actually could be doing more if the Biden administration would mobilize -- and, presumably pay for -- Guard deployment as they would be able to work with federal law enforcement.
"If President Biden does the right thing and acts, they will be able to support ICE and CBP, two agencies that desperately need all the support they can get,'' Ducey said.
"But it doesn't look like this administration is going to act anytime soon,'' he continued. "And we're not going to sit around and wait any longer.''
Sen. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, called the move "political grandstanding.'' She said the state has secured $110 million in emergency funding from the American Rescue Plan, crafted by the Biden administration, to support local government and nonprofits who are currently providing care to migrants at the border.
"Seriously, we're going to spend $25 million in state money on this?'' she asked in her own Twitter post.
"Where were the Arizona Republicans when the Trump administration was ripping babies out of the arms of their mother's and father's arms?'' she asked. "Where was the outrage then?''
But the announcement also got what could be considered predictable accolades from Republican legislators.
"The security of Arizona and our residents is our first priority,'' said Senate President Karen Fann, R-Prescott, in a prepared statement released by Ducey's office. "Illegal crossings put our border towns, safety personnel and all Arizonans at risk, but also the immigrants who are facing unsafe conditions as they cross into the state.''
House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said the deployment "helps combat the Democrats' misguided message that crossing the border illegally is acceptable.''
The governor's order comes nearly a week after Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a fellow Republican, specifically urged him to active the Guard to assist at the border.
Brnovich also urged the governor to provide direct financial interest to cities and towns that are dealing with an influx of migrants. There is nothing in Ducey's new order addressing that.
But Yvette Borja, a border litigation attorney for the ACLU of Arizona, called the move a "political ploy to depict a border 'crisis' when there is none.''
"Let's be clear: The governor's actions do nothing more than further militarize our border communities and stoke unnecessary and unjustified fear,'' she said in a prepared statement.
But gubernatorial press aide C.J. Karamargin said the soldiers will not be armed.