David S. Cloud and Joseph Tanfani, Los Angeles Times, April 7, 2018
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis has signed an order to send up to 4,000 National Guard troops to to the U.S.-Mexico border but barred them from interacting with migrants detained by the Border Patrol in most circumstances.
The order, issued in response to President Trump’s call for using troops to stem illegal immigration, specifies that National Guard troops will assist the Department of Homeland Security along the border but not perform law enforcement missions and will be armed only when necessary for self-defense.
Previous presidents have mobilized National Guard troops to help monitor parts of the border. President George W. Bush sent 6,400 troops starting in 2006 and President Obama sent 1,200 in 2010. As with the current deployment, actual policing was left to the Border Patrol, a law enforcement agency.
Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union representing agents, said Guard units could help by freeing agents to do more patrolling to search for smugglers.
“We have so many agents working in permanent surveillance duties, in control rooms, watching cameras,” he said in an interview. “This will free our resources to put more agents in the field….it will increase the certainty of apprehension, which will allow us to target the criminal cartels.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbot, a Republican, ordered 250 National Guard soldiers deployed to the border within 72 hours, and said additional troops would be called up to join them as soon as next week. Two helicopters lifted off Friday night from Austin, the state capital, to head south.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, another Republican, said his state would deploy about 150 Guard members next week to provide support operations such as air surveillance, reconnaissance and construction of border infrastructure.
But governors of several states that don’t sit on the border resisted, signaling potential obstacles in meeting the president’s goal of a surge of 4,000 troops.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, opposed the plan. After consulting with the general in charge of the state’s National Guard, Sandoval decided there was no “appropriate mission definition” to justify sending troops, according to his spokeswoman, Mary-Sarah Kinner.
The Pentagon has not provided an estimate for the cost of the military operation, and it is unclear whether all 4,000 of the Guard members authorized will be mobilized.
Under federal law, troops are barred from performing law enforcement duties in most circumstances, and the order appears to restrict them to a support role unless Mattis authorizes a wider mission.
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White told reporters Thursday that planners are looking at sending National Guard units that can assist with aviation, engineering, surveillance, communications, vehicle maintenance and logistics support.
Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the Pentagon’s National Guard Bureau, which oversees state Guard organizations, said on Twitter that up to 500 reservists are now headed to the border, equipped with vehicles, helicopters and other equipment.