Guardsmen find mostly positive reception in Arizona duty

Associated Press • Mar 5, 2007 at 11:21 AM

YUMA, Ariz. - Tennessee National Guardsman supporting border enforcement along the Arizona-Mexico border describe appreciative U.S. farmers thanking them with cabbages and fresh honey.

Some of their fields are now able to sustain crops better than when larger numbers of illegal immigrants trampled them crossing the Colorado River into Yuma, Guard officials said.

But some residents of Yuma have mixed feelings about the effectiveness of the Guard's presence.

"Those people will just find another way to get in," said Ruth Loran, 40, a medical assistant. "(The Guard) costs a lot of money that we could be spending on other things."

Benny Van Osdel, a 50-year-old maintenance supervisor for a contracting company, said he supports the increased border vigilance.

"There's a lot less illegals crossing the border now," Van Osdel said.

Tennessee Guardsmen man 20 observation posts in 24-hour shifts on the outskirts of Yuma. The posts are spaced about a quarter-mile apart, a much tighter pattern than in other parts of the state.

U.S. Border Patrol agents say they want higher enforcement in the area to catch migrants before they can blend into nearby communities.

Juan Fiffield, 49, a registered nurse, said he supports the Guard deployments. While he recognizes political overtones in the illegal immigration debate, he said there's "politics in everything."

"And if politics help the country, then that's good," he said.

Marco Rodriguez, a 17-year-old high school student, said he understands the importance of border enforcement but he also has some concerns.

"You never know when there will be a terrorist or a drug dealer trying to cross," he said. "But I also think it's kind of degrading toward our Border Patrol, because I think they can do the job on their own."

About 400 Tennessee soldiers are currently deployed in Arizona. They are part of Operation Jump Start, President Bush's initiative to have 6,000 guardsmen work in support of Border Patrol efforts in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California.

Guard units have been called in for surveillance and support operations, but are not allowed to engage in armed confrontations.

Gov. Phil Bredesen completed a two-day trip to Arizona on Friday to meet with Tennessee guardsmen and learn more about the role they are playing in securing the border.

On Friday he said the Tennessee guardsmen are doing an important job and helping stanch the flow of drugs and illegal immigrants, but the Guard mission on the border at large is part of a complex and heated political issue.

"I can't think of an issue in my adult lifetime that's become more politicized," Bredesen said. "And some of the xenophobia is a little scary."

Bredesen said he wants some time to reflect on whether the Guard's mission should be changed to allow them to engage in armed confrontations or to detain migrants.

AP-CS-03-03-07 1249EST

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