FILE PHOTO: Immigrants arrive at the border, Mexico © Carlos Barria / Reuters
President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday night to send the National Guard to beef up security at the Mexican border and combat illegal immigration.
The deployment will be done in conjunction with border state governors and will begin immediately.
“The threat is real,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said at a press conference. “We continue to see unacceptable levels of illegal drugs, dangerous gang activity, transnational criminal organizations, and illegal immigration flow across our border.”
Precise details about the deployment will be worked out in the coming days, but according to NBC sources, the troops will have no actual physical contact with immigrants. Instead they will provide surveillance and a visible presence to assist border patrol and customs agents.
The president hinted at sending in the military on Tuesday, saying: “Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military. That’s a big step!” Trump’s surprise comments came at a press conference with the leaders of the Baltic states.
The move comes following news last week that a thousands-strong “caravan” of migrants, mostly from Honduras and organized by activists from Pueblo Sin Fronteras (People WIthout Borders), had been making its way toward the US border through Mexico. While the Mexican government announced it would break up the caravan, its organizers promised to continue the march to the border and demand entry.
Four states border Mexico: California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, both Republicans, welcomed Trump’s order.
“Anything we can do to continue to enhance security, to go after the cartels and others who are smuggling drugs into the country and putting lives at risk, the governor absolutely wants to see that happen,” said a spokesperson for Ducey.
California is the state most likely to refuse to deploy troops. Democrat Governor Jerry Brown is a vocal critic of Trump, and has refused to deploy the National Guard before, in 2014.
Jacking up security is only one part of the Trump administration’s clampdown on illegal immigration. Nielsen also called on Congress to close loopholes in immigration law, including ending ‘catch-and-release’ programmes that see immigrants caught in the US released after 20 days without being deported.
“Time and time again, Congress has failed to act,” said Nielsen. “Worse still, some members of Congress have continually opposed efforts to secure the border.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Wednesday that it is essential that Congress pass “effective legislation that ends the illegality.”
Sessions added that his Justice Department would be crafting its own initiatives “to restore legality to the southern border.”
Stamping out illegal immigration had been a core promise of the Trump campaign, as was stemming the flow of drugs across the border. Most of the illicit drugs that enter the US do so through the 2,000-mile border with Mexico. Mexican drug cartels make an estimated $19-29 billion a year on drug sales in the United States – enough to comfortably fund the first phase of Trump’s proposed border wall.
While Trump frequently talks tough on border security, he is not the first president to send in National Guard troops to hold the line. Under ‘Operation Jump Start’ in 2006, President George Bush sent some 6,000 troops to border states at a cost of $1.2 billion. President Barack Obama sent 1,200 troops to the border in 2010 under ‘Operation Phalanx,’ at a cost of $110 million per year.
Both operations were responsible for apprehending over 200,000 illegal immigrants and seizing over 28 tons of marijuana.