Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not decided whether to comply with President Bush's plan to put National Guard troops on the Mexican border and, according to a spokesman, will only make his decision after he gets more information about what the White House has in mind.
The California Republican governor aired his concerns in a telephone call with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Wednesday afternoon, but was not satisfied with what he heard.
Schwarzenegger told Chertoff that putting Guard units at the border for two- to three-week rotations would be "a logistical nightmare" and would be asking too much of troops that had recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The governor asked if the federal government would pay all the costs involved in sending National Guard troops to the border and whether he or the Department of Defense would determine the California Guard's role.
"Following the 40-minute conversation, it was clear the administration didn't have the answers," said Schwarzenegger's spokeswoman Margita Thompson. "It is evident there needs to be a continuing dialogue."
President Bush continues Thursday his campaign on behalf of his own immigration proposals, including a guest worker program for Mexicans.
Mr. Bush will be visiting the state that some call "ground zero" in the immigration battle: Arizona. The president will tour the border sector in Yuma, where officials say the Border Patrol catches up to 450 immigrants a day trying to cross the border.
Also Thursday, the Senate is set to debate an amendment that would make English the national language. It's part of the overall discussion on immigration reform. Lawmakers Wednesday engaged in some give-and-take, backing the while leaving intact a plan to give millions of illegal immigrants a potential path to citizenship.
For a Republican governor, Schwarzenegger has been unusually vocal in his criticism of President Bush's plans to use National Guard troops on the borders. Schwarzenegger said he supports the goal of reducing illegal immigration but does not think using the Guard is the right way to do it.
On Tuesday, he made public a letter he sent to Chertoff filled with pointed questions about how the Bush administration plans to use the Guard.
President Bush is asking governors to comply voluntarily with his plan by sending National Guard troops. But if a governor were to refuse, the president could federalize Guard units and send them himself.
Also on Wednesday, Don Perata, the Democratic leader of the California state Senate, pledged not to budget "one dime" of state money for President Bush's proposed Guard deployment until the state determines whether the plan would hurt California's ability to respond to a disaster.
"As a matter of moral principle and constitutional precedent, we will not be party to budgeting one dime to enable any role for the California National Guard in border monitoring until the Senate immediately and thoroughly reviews the implications of this use of state funds and personnel," Perata wrote to Sen. Wesley Chesbro, the chairman of the California State Senate Budget Committee.
Perata said the state's contribution to the National Guard instead should be spent on its primary function, ensuring that Guard units are prepared to respond to natural disasters and civil emergencies.
The Oakland Democrat also created a committee that will examine the Guard's potential use in policing the borders and the impact of diverting Guard personnel from the state's other needs.
His budget directive effectively suspends consideration of the estimated $38 million budget of the California National Guard for the upcoming 2006-07 budget year, which begins in July, pending a determination by the newly formed committee.
Perata said he expects the Senate Select Committee on National Guard Direction and Deployment to hold its first hearing early next week.
"Maybe what we have going here right now will be a civics lesson to understand more clearly the role of the National Guard within the concepts of states' rights and state responsibilities," Perata said during a press conference.
In the letter to Chertoff, Schwarzenegger questioned the logic and logistics of the National Guard deployment. He also asked Chertoff what the government believes would constitute a successful border deployment and when it might end.
"Securing our borders is a law enforcement function, and what we need are more Border Patrol agents, not National Guard troops who are neither trained nor suited for this purpose," he said in the letter.
At a news conference Tuesday, Schwarzenegger called the Bush proposal a "mixed bag" and said he did not have enough information. He said the federal government's handling of the border was "disastrous" and "embarrassing," and said he was not sure that sending the National Guard would solve illegal immigration.
"So, what if they have 6,000 National Guards at the borders and we find out that the same amount of people are coming across?" he said. "Does it mean he will increase (the deployment) to 12,000, to 15,000, to 50,000? We don't know."
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