President Donald Trump needs states’ consent to execute his plan to secure the border with Mexico with National Guard troops.
While leaders from two of those border states promptly embraced Trump’s proposal on Wednesday, California was less enthusiastic.
“This request – as with others we’ve received from the Department of Homeland Security, including those for additional staffing in 2006 and 2010 – will be promptly reviewed to determine how best we can assist our federal partners,” California National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Tom Keegan said in a statement issued on behalf of Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration. “We look forward to more detail, including funding, duration and end state.”
The White House has yet to provide many specifics on the plan, which President Trump first floated during a during a press conference with the presidents of three Baltic nations on Tuesday. On Wednesday afternoon, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen briefed the press on the proposal to deploy the National Guard to the border, which she argued was necessary to prevent “unacceptable levels of illegal drugs, dangerous gang activity, transnational criminal organizations, and illegal immigration” from flowing across the country’s southern border.
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In a statement released Wednesday evening, the White House said the deployment was needed “to give our Border Patrol agents the support they deserve” and the National Guard troops would “remain in a support role until Congress takes the action necessary to close the loopholes undermining our border security efforts.”
Critics of the move pointed out that fears about crime and illegality on the border are largely unfounded. Border apprehensions and crossings dropped in 2017, and while the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border has increased in recent months, data from Customs and Border Protection show family apprehensions are down virtually across the board.
Nielsen said Wednesday that the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agency has identified areas of the border that they believe need protection in very specific ways, state by state, locale by locale. But she declined to say how many troops would be deployed, how much it would cost, or who would pay.
“I don’t want to get ahead of the governors,” she said. “We are giving them the opportunity to review our suggestions of how the National Guard can support the Border Patrol.”
Nielsen emphasized that the National Guard deployment would be “a partnership” with the border states and their governors.
According to a fact sheet from the National Guard, the president does have the power to “federalize” the National Guard, but it would involve calling them into active military service and is intended for situations like quashing a local insurrection. That is not what the Trump administration is proposing in this case. “I want to be very clear,” Nielsen said, “the governors retain control of the National Guard within their regions” under the White House proclamation.
And that gives California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas a veto over the plan.
California is the most likely to use it. The Republican governors in Texas and Arizona both said Wednesday that they welcomed the move, while New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez said she “appreciates the administration’s efforts to bring states to the table as they go about taking steps to better secure our border.” Brown, meanwhile, has not hesitated to buck this White House on immigration and whole range of other policies.
He has also resisted using the state’s National Guard to patrol the border in the past. After Texas deployed 1,000 of its National Guard troops in 2014, Brown’s government determined a similar move was not necessary in California.
The state did comply with White House requests to deploy the National Guard on the border in 2006 and 2010 under Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But the 2006 deployment came only after a protracted dispute between Schwarzenegger’s administration and the George W. Bush White House over how many California guardsmen were needed and who would pay for it. Questions about who foots the bill are likely to be an issue again, in 2018.
Nielsen said on Wednesday that she has spoken with all of the governors about the deployment “and will be continuing these conversations.”
“It is very encouraging that some of them ... have taken dramatic steps in their own states to confront illegal immigration and to strengthen that border security to prevent the criminal activity and the inflow of drugs. These are leaders who understand the importance of enforcement in border security and how it improves public safety in their states. I look forward to working with each of them.”
In 2006, President George W. Bush announced he planned to deploy 6,000 troops to the border as part of Operation Jump Start. Four years later, President Barack Obama deployed up to 1,200 troops as part of Operation Phalanx. Nielsen said she thinks troops will act as support to Border Patrol similar as they did during the Bush operation.
The California National Guard already operates a counter-drug program, which consists of 250 personnel who conduct counter-drug missions across the state. Approximately 55 of those personnel provide support directly to the southwest border.