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Border Patrol to build fencing

Mr. Bush stressed at the time the National Guard troops were not there to be law-enforcement agents, but rather to build fencing, vehicle barriers and buildings, as well as to help with surveillance. He said the initial commitment of 6,000 troops would last for a year, after which it would be reduced as new Border Patrol agents and technologies came online.

"We have magnificently trained young men and women, but they are not trained as Border Patrol agents; they are trained as soldiers and airmen," Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said last year, telling reporters they would focus on infrastructure and free the Border Patrol up to enforce the law.

"Engineering makes good sense to me. Barrier-building makes good sense. We have had a long success of that. Building roads makes sense. Putting in anti-vehicle barriers makes sense. Putting in lighting and fencing makes sense," he said.

Last week, the Bush administration said Operation Jump Start was "on track" and, as scheduled, the number of troops would be drawn down to 3,000 by Sept. 30.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Deputy Commissioner Jay Ahern, who is responsible for overseeing border security, called the decision to recruit Border Patrol volunteers to build the fence "an appropriate use of resources."

Mr. Ahern said the agency was not "shying away" from its responsibilities in completing the 70 miles of fencing.

"This is a temporary bridge to use Border Patrol agents to meet the mandate of 70 miles by September 30. We are a can-do organization that can meet our goals," he said, adding that building fences along the border will enhance and not compromise border security.

White House spokeswoman Emily A. Lawrimore said the Border Patrol would have to answer questions about the memo calling for volunteers, and she would not comment on the decision to draw down Guard troops except to say they were "intended to provide temporary support to the Border Patrol while it recruited more agents and infrastructure projects were started."

In October, Mr. Bush signed a law committing to fence nearly 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. The Secure Fence Act culminated a two-year debate in Congress over immigration, won by House Republicans who insisted on an enforcement-first policy.

The bill authorizes double-tiered fencing and support roads along some of the most-porous parts of the U.S.-Mexico border, including much of Arizona — the nation's leading immigration and drug-smuggling corridor.

As of June, 13 miles of new border fencing had been built.