U.S. President Donald Trump has signed a proclamation directing the National Guard to be deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump said Wednesday in a memorandum to his secretaries of defence and homeland security and to his attorney general that the “situation at the border has now reached a point of crisis.”
The document orders the secretary of defence to support the Department of Homeland Security in securing the southern border to stop the flow of drugs and people.
And it orders the agency heads to submit a report within 30 days outlining what other steps can be taken.
Trump said “lawlessness” at the border is “fundamentally incompatible with the safety, security, and sovereignty of the American people,” adding his administration “has no choice but to act.”
Earlier Wednesday Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the troops would be deployed “immediately” to fight illegal immigration, with some troops potentially arriving late in the day.
“The threat is real,” Nielsen said at an afternoon briefing, adding that Trump was signing a proclamation to put the deployment into effect. “It’s time to act.”
The announcement came hours after Trump pledged “strong action today” on immigration and a day after he said he wants to use the military to secure the southern border until his “big, beautiful wall” is erected.
In a tweet early Wednesday, Trump said that “Our Border Laws are very weak” and that Democrats “stand in our way” of new laws. He added, “We will be taking strong action today.”
Trump told reporters on Tuesday that he’d been discussing the idea of using the military at the border with Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.
“We’re going to be doing things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military,” Trump said, calling the move a “big step.”
Federal law prohibits the use of active-duty service members for law enforcement inside the U.S., unless specifically authorized by Congress. But over the past 12 years, presidents have twice sent National Guard troops to the border to bolster security and assist with surveillance and other support.
Governors of the four U.S. states bordering Mexico were largely supportive of the move. The office of California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat who has sparred with Trump on immigration issues, said any federal request would be promptly reviewed to determine how the state could best offer its assistance.
In Texas, which already has about 100 National Guard members stationed on the border, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said the president’s decision “reinforces Texas’ longstanding commitment to secure our southern border and uphold the rule of law.”
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, said she appreciated the administration’s efforts to involve states in the effort to better secure the border, while Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, also a Republican, tweeted that his state “welcomes the deployment of National Guard to the border.
“Washington has ignored this issue for too long and help is needed.”
But in Mexico, senators urged President Enrique Pena Nieto to temporarily suspend co-operation with the U.S. on immigration and security issues. In a nonbinding statement approved unanimously Wednesday, the senators asked Mexico’s government to freeze joint efforts “in the fight against transnational organized crime” until Trump starts acting “with the civility and respect that the people of Mexico deserve.”
The White House counsel’s office has been working on the idea for several weeks, according to a senior official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal plans.
Trump has been frustrated by slow action on building a wall along the Mexican border. He’s previously suggested using the Pentagon’s budget to pay for the wall, arguing it is a national security priority, despite strict rules that prohibit spending that’s not authorized by Congress.
Nielsen said the administration was considering a model similar to a 2006 operation in which President George W. Bush deployed National Guard troops to the southern border, with a focus on assisting U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel.
“We are anxious to have the support,” she said.
Not a first
Under Operation Jump Start, 6,000 National Guard troops were sent to assist the border patrol with non-law enforcement duties while additional border agents were hired and trained. Over two years, about 29,000 National Guard forces participated as forces rotated in and out. The Guard members were used for surveillance, communications, administrative support, intelligence, analysis and the installation of border security infrastructure.
In addition, President Barack Obama sent about 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in 2010 to beef up efforts against drug smuggling and illegal immigration.
Texas also deployed military forces to its 1,290-kilometre border with Mexico. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, now Trump’s energy secretary, sent 1,000 Texas National Guardsmen to the Rio Grande Valley in 2014 in response to a sharp increase in Central American children crossing the border alone.
Trump met Tuesday with top administration officials, including Mattis, Nielsen and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to discuss the administration’s strategy to address what White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders described as “the growing influx of illegal immigration, drugs and violent gang members from Central America.”
In addition to mobilizing the National Guard, Trump and senior officials “agreed on the need to pressure Congress to urgently pass legislation to close legal loopholes exploited by criminal trafficking, narco-terrorist and smuggling organizations,” Sanders said.
Trump has been fixated on the issue since he grudgingly signed a spending bill last month that includes far less money for the wall than he’d hoped for.
The $1.3 trillion package included $1.6 billion for border wall spending — a fraction of the $25 billion Trump made a last-minute push to secure. And much of that money can be used only to repair existing segments, not to build new sections.
Trump spent the first months of his presidency bragging about a dramatic drop in illegal border crossings. Indeed, the 2017 fiscal year marked a 45-year low for Border Patrol arrests. But the numbers have been slowly ticking up since last April and are now on par with many months of the Obama administration. Statistics show 36,695 arrests of people trying to cross the southwest border in February 2018, up from 23,555 in the same month of the previous year.
At last week’s meeting, Trump “directed a vigorous administrative strategy to confront this threat and protect America’s national security,” Sanders said. Tuesday’s briefing was a follow-up to discuss the plans.