A largely Republican group of House lawmakers said Wednesday they have sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking for the National Guard to be deployed along the border between the United States and Mexico.

The request comes in the midst of a heated debate on Capitol Hill over a comprehensive immigration reform bill - one of the president's top domestic priorities.

"We want the National Guard on the border," said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas. "This country protects the borders of other nations better than it protects our own border." The president needs to "enforce the rule of law," he said.

Poe and a handful of other congressmen asserted that the Mexican border has become a virtual war zone, plagued by violence from Mexican drug cartels expanding their reach into the United States. They also noted that border state governors have made similar requests for a National Guard deployment.

Local sheriffs and border agents are currently "outmanned, outgunned, and outfinanced" by the cartels, Poe said.

"Right now the cartels dominate (the border region) through violence and intimidation," said Rep. Dan Burton, R-Indiana. "It is long since time to protect our populations on the southern border."

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, claimed her constituents were "sick and tired" of the federal government failing to protect the border. The current situation is "completely unacceptable," she said.

Giffords defended a controversial new Arizona law requiring police officers in the state to determine whether people are in the United States legally if there is a reason to suspect they aren't.

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