Arizona bill would fund militia
Initial $1.9 mil would pay for armed state guard created in executive order
by Yvonne Wingett Sanchez - Feb. 11, 2012 10:14 PM
The Arizona governor could deploy an armed, volunteer militia to respond to natural disasters and patrol the Arizona-Mexico border for illegal immigrants and drug-traffickers under a legislative proposal to fund a state guard.
The state would pay $1.9 million to activate the Arizona State Guard, created last year through an executive order signed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer.
The bill calls for a one-time cost of $500,000 from the general fund and an additional $1.4 million each year from a gang task-force fund. While there's an anticipated budget surplus, lawmakers must deal with long-term debt and the May 2013 expiration of the 1-cent-per-dollar sales-tax increase, so it is unclear how much support this bill would have.
Arizona would join 23 other states and territories with active guards, but experts say the state would stand alone if its militia was focused on border enforcement and "combating international criminal activity."
Most state guards serve as auxiliaries to state National Guards and assist in disaster preparation and response, recovery efforts and protection of infrastructure. State guards typically augment National Guards, a federally recognized reserve military force. Most often, state governors control the state militia, and the state's senior military commander directly oversees them. In some instances, state-guard members have access to weapons, which are otherwise locked away in armories for safekeeping, one border expert said.
Senate Bill 1083, which would establish a funding source for the guard, has passed through the Senate Border Security, Federalism and States Sovereignty Committee mostly on party lines. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, now moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is scheduled to hear it Tuesday.
Last year, Brewer signed into law legislation to establish a state guard. Brewer generally does not comment on bills before they reach her desk, and she has not indicated whether she supports the legislation funding the guard. Allen said the governor was non-committal when they discussed the measure.
"Something has to be done about the situation at the border -- people are being terrorized," Allen told The Republic. "There are plenty of ex-law-enforcement officers who could do this. I don't have any illusion that we can solve our border problem, but this would help."
The proposed legislation comes at a time when Border Patrol apprehensions, a measure of illegal-immigration traffic, have fallen by 53 percent since 2008 and are now at one-fifth of what they were at their peak in 2000, according to figures by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The proposal also comes when there is a significant presence of Border Patrol agents assigned to the Southwest border: In August, there were 18,152 agents assigned to the border, more than twice the 8,580 in 2000, according to statistics from the Department of Homeland Security. Of those, about 4,000 are stationed in Arizona, with about 3,200 in the Tucson Sector and the remaining 800 assigned to the Yuma Sector, which covers western Arizona and parts of eastern California.
Allen estimates the proposed legislation would fund 250 to 300 state militia members, who would voluntarily participate and receive $100 daily stipends while on duty. The $1.9 million would cover training, maintenance and operations, including insurance. The legislation does not specify how much uniforms and firearms would cost or how they would be paid.
When called into duty, members of the state militia could detain and arrest suspects until a law-enforcement agency takes over and would have immunity for acts that occur while on duty -- similar to immunity granted to police and other law enforcement that prevents prosecution while doing their jobs. The legislation also would allow the state guard to seize assets in instances where it cooperates with state or local law-enforcement agencies.
Maj. Gen. Hugo Salazar, adjutant general of the Arizona National Guard, said he doesn't have an official position on the legislation but added he has some liability and training concerns. He reports to the governor and would oversee such a civilian militia.
"I do have concerns about weapons," he recently told the Senate border-security committee, pointing out that no other state militia allows members to carry weapons. "And so, as an objective individual, I ask myself, 'Is there a reason why?' There's a lot of things that have to occur before I feel comfortable putting a weapon in a volunteer's hand."
Supporters of the legislation say a guard could help budget-strapped sheriffs along the border enforce human- and drug-smuggling laws. They said a state militia would cost far less than calling in the National Guard for assistance during disasters and that the state has the responsibility to step up border enforcement since the federal government has failed to secure the border and prevent human, drug and weapon trafficking.
It cost the federal government $1.4 billion to station the National Guard at the Southwestern border two different times dating to 2006, according to federal reports.
"I'm not sure how much longer we just sit around and do nothing," said Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, who voted in favor of the bill.
Brewer regularly criticizes the federal government for its inaction on the border, and in December, she denounced the Obama administration's plan to draw down the National Guard troops on the border. This legislation would essentially allow her to deploy a state militia as she sees fit.
But critics raise questions about how the state militia would recruit members, how the state would vet members, and potential legal ramifications of authorizing a volunteer to carry -- and use -- weapons.
"All this does is it legitimizes the Minutemen-type model of enforcement," Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said, referring to the civilian border-patrol movement that took root in Arizona around 2005. "It's crazy. Absolutely crazy."
Border-security experts said state guards have provided important resources to the nation -- especially when responding to natural disasters. Over time, said Jessica Zuckerman, a research assistant with the conservative Heritage Foundation, some state guards have tailored their expertise -- Texas, for example, is known for its medical units.
Michael Lytle, a border expert at the University of Texas at Brownsville, said Arizona would be the first to test stationing a state guard at the border.
"If it's to man observation posts, that's one thing, but if they're going to arrest people, that's something entirely different," he said. "I just don't know any place where state guards perform that kind of mission -- you've got kind of an unprecedented situation out there."
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