SAN LUIS, Ariz. -- The first National Guard troops ordered to the U.S.-Mexico border as part of President Bush's plan to improve security have arrived in the four border states and are expected to begin work by today.
"The Jump Start operation has begun," Mario Martinez, a Border Patrol spokesman in Washington, said Friday, using the Guard's name for the border mission. "They are being issued orders and are being processed and trained."
Most of the troops arrived by Thursday to prepare for their assignments, which will include monitoring surveillance cameras and sensors, building roads, putting fencing along the border and other tasks that will free up regular Border Patrol agents to police the 2,000-mile divide between Mexico and California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico.
Bush ordered the call-up to help the Border Patrol as it seeks to hire 6,000 new agents and bring its total to 18,000 by the end of 2008 as part of an effort to increase security.
Border Patrol and Guard spokesmen said Friday that the first group of Guard members would number about 800. By August, up to 6,000 Guard members are to be assigned to the border mission. Next year, that number is to drop to 3,000 as more Border Patrol agents are hired.
Most of the Guard members will be unarmed unless they are in a hazardous area. Much of their time will be spent in Border Patrol offices, watching monitors and handling other equipment, while those in the field will alert Border Patrol agents if they see someone crossing the border illegally.
"The National Guard is not going to be involved in any law-enforcement mission," Martinez said. "Actual arrests, seizures, custodial - none of that stuff. The Border Patrol agents are the ones trained to determine probable cause, effect arrests, and it is impossible to bring the National Guard up to speed on that."
He added, "You should not look for a motorcade of trucks headed to the border, because that is not how the deployment is going to work out."
The bulk of the troops, 40 percent, will be assigned to Arizona, which illegal immigrants have made the busiest crossing point after previous Border Patrol clampdowns on urban areas pushed smugglers into the vast, forbidding desert. The remaining three states will get 20 percent each.
California does not expect to have guard troops at Border Patrol stations until mid-July, though commanders and administrative staff have begun arriving to work out logistics, housing and other issues, said Maj. Jon Seipmann, a spokesman for the California National Guard.