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Arizona National Guard speaks to ABC15 a month after border deployment

Posted at 7:45 PM, May 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-24 07:52:13-04

Nearly 400 military troops from Arizona are now deployed to back up the U.S. Border Patrol, so more agents can be deployed in the field.  

Private Jose Razo, a guardsman from the Valley, is working at the Border Patrol firing range in Nogales.

He's in charge of safety on the range, and he told ABC15 he did not even have a gun with him.

"I don't need one at all," Razo said.

Sgt. Thomas Evitts has been involved in two past border missions. The others were in 2006 and 2010. 

RELATED: Gov. Doug Ducey deploys 225 National Guard members to Arizona border

"It is a different mission this time," Evitts said. "Last time, it was more eyes on the border, where this mission is more getting the border agents on the border."

The National Guard is clear that its role is a supporting one, not militarizing the border with Mexico. 

Evitts is caring for Border Patrol horses, freeing up as many as three agents to hit the trail instead of dealing with feed and tack.

During a tour of the Border Patrol Station in Nogales, ABC15 also met Guard members who were providing vehicle maintenance and monitoring surveillance camera feeds. 

The troops volunteered for the posts, leaving their families and regular jobs to work along the border.

A helicopter team from the Missouri National Guard has also traveled to the Tucson area to support Border Patrol operations.
In April, President Donald Trump authorized the mission to deploy up to 4,000 National Guard members to the southwest border to handle what he considers a crisis.  

Customs and Border Protection reports its agents apprehended about 50,000 people in March and a similar number in April. 

Those numbers are up more than 200 percent from the prior year.  

At the same time, the number of Border Patrol agents in the Tucson Sector alone has dropped from 4,400 to 3,700, according to an agency spokesman.

"Recently there has been a spike in the number of illegal crossings," Agent Chris Sullivan said. "It's definitely something we have to address and look at."

Apprehensions along the southwest border can fluctuate significantly, and 2017 was an extremely light year. 

Even with a sudden spike this spring, apprehensions are far below peak immigration years in 2005 and 2006, which averaged more than a million people apprehended in a year.  

In recent years, criminal and gang member captures have also declined.

"When we see our goal, you know it's having zero [unauthorized] people crossing the border," Sullivan said.  

"It's sad that there are these type of illegal activities going on, but it's fantastic that I'm able to participate in assisting these agents," Sgt. Scott Engels, a Guard member from the Phoenix area, said.

It's unclear how long the National Guard could be stationed at the border, but funding for the mission is guaranteed until the end of September.