The Obama administration on Tuesday pledged to put 1,200 National Guard troops at the U.S.-Mexico border in response to a request by an Arizona congresswoman who complained about an influx of illegal Mexican immigrants.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Tucson Democrat, held a press conference in Washington, D.C. Tuesday afternoon to announce the deployment: “We need to make sure that the drug smugglers … that the human traffickers … know that they're no longer welcome,” she said. “It is high time that we have the National Guard on the border.”

A representative of Giffords told the Weekly it's not yet clear if the deployment will also cover the border in California. U.S. Rep. Ted Poe of Kingwood, Tex., indicated that some of the troops would cover the Mexican border with Texas. At the press conference he praised the deployment as “bipartisan” and very necessary.

The border, Poe said, “has become a war zone … We protect the borders of other countries better than we protect our own … This is a national security issue.”

The Obama administration's pledge also includes $500 million in funding for “enhanced border protection and law enforcement activities,” according to Giffords' office. Her office stated the administration's reaction was a direct result of three written requests she made to Obama for help along the border. She also requested that Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain add border-protection funding to the Senate's war supplement bill.

It's not clear how effective the guard troops would be. Giffords' office indicates “the troops will provide intelligence and intelligence analysis; surveillance and reconnaissance support; immediate support to counternarcotics enforcement; and training capacity until Customs and Border Patrol can recruit and train additional officers and agents to serve on the border.”

The deployment and funding come as immigration has become perhaps the nation's hottest political topic, even though reports indicate the economic downturn has led to a reduction in the illegal immigration population. Likewise, Armerican crime rates in the '00s — when the illegal immigrant population, more than 40 percent non-Mexican (PDF), peaked — remained at historic lows.

Still, with a Democrat in the White House, Republicans have seized on the issue as theirs, despite former President George W. Bush's pro-immigrant stance. A recent law in Arizona encouraging police to check in the immigration status of people they question, detain and arrest has only further polarized the nation on the issue.

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