(CNSNews.com) - Members of Congress are split on whether the National Guard should end its deployment along the U.S.-Mexico border in July, as planned.
On Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff predicted the border would not be secured until 2011. (See earlier story)
At its peak, Operation Jump Start -- which began in June 2006 -- involved 6,000 members of the Guard on a two-year mission to provide military assistance and equipment to the Border Patrol in states bordering Mexico.
Prior to Operation Jump Start, only a few hundred Guard troops were posted at the border. Since the operation began, the U.S. Border Patrol has boosted its own presence there.
Randal Noller, a public affairs officer for the National Guard Bureau, told Cybercast News Service that as of June 4, the Guard had helped Customs and Border Protection apprehend 176,000 illegal aliens, seize 1,116 vehicles, intercept 315,744 pounds of marijuana and seize 5,225 pounds of cocaine. (The Guard does not make actual arrests of illegal border crossers, but only aids Border Patrol personnel.)
The Guard also built 38.1 miles of new fencing, 18.5 miles of new roads, 94.5 miles of vehicle barriers and repaired 717 miles of road.
The final withdrawal of Guard troops assigned to Operation Jump Start is planned for July 15.
The National Guard's Noller said that Operation Jump Start is winding down, in line with a presidential directive. He said about 150 guardsmen will remain for administrative duties after the mission ends.
As of June 11, 2,284 Guard members were on active duty at the border.
Meanwhile, members of Congress are split on whether the Bush administration should continue Operation Jump Start.
"I hate to see the National Guard withdrawn," Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) told Cybercast News Service. He said that the Guard had been "enormously effective" in "helping to protect the nation."
Franks, whose northwestern Arizona district does not lie on the border, nevertheless said he believes border security should be a priority "first and foremost" for our nation.
Rep. James Moran (D-Va.), meanwhile, expressed support for ending the mission.
"I think we need them back in our cities," Moran said.
He told Cybercast News Service that the future on the border lies in "technology that gives us the kind of sustainable enforcement that we need."
Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch recommended keeping the troops along the border for another year or so.
"We can get a long way between now and 2011," Lynch said. "Make an assessment in 2009 or 2010 and see where we are, and if we can afford to move them off our border, then we can do that."
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) was also in favor of waiting.
"My advice would be to favor their continued deployment until the border's judged as secure," he said.
"I think if we continue on the course we've set now, we can get the border secure ... sometime in 2011," Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff said at a Monday press conference.
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