Texas National Guard troops deploy to U.S.-Mexico border
AUSTIN — Two helicopters deployed an initial wave of Texas National Guard troops to the Mexico border area Friday night, even as their exact duties remained unknown.
In the past, National Guard troops deployed to the border have served in logistics, communications and support roles only, not involved in making arrests or enforcing laws. Under federal law, they are limited to support roles.
However, Brig. Gen. Tracy Norris, commander of the Texas Army National Guard, said the role for this mission will be dictated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security which is overseeing the deployment of troops under an order issued by President Trump on Wednesday.
She said the Guard troops being deployed “will be armed” for self-defense, but would not elaborate on what additional duties they may be assigned by DHS.
The first two UH-72 Lakota helicopters lifted off at dusk from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport with approximately two dozen planning and logistics personnel, as other Guard troops were leaving from Houston and other sites. Norris said the force eventually would grow to 250 troops within the next 72 hours.
“The Texas National Guard is a force that is trained and ready,” Norris said, stressing that Texas’ Guard deployment is being coordinated with similar activations in New Mexico, Arizona and California.
The initial Texas deployments will begin planning, logistical and, perhaps, patrol support for law enforcement agencies already positioned along Texas’ border with Mexico. Additional aircraft, vehicles, surveillance gear and other support equipment will arrive in the coming weeks.
Troops among those deployed Friday said they had been notified earlier in the day of the open-ended mission.
Already, 100 Texas Guard troops are deployed along the border under the state-initiated “Operation Secure Texas” support operation ordered two years ago by Gov. Abbott, an activation that is costing state taxpayers just under $1 million a month. Beginning Friday, the federal government will pick up the entire tab.
Lt. Col. Travis Walters, state public affairs officer for the Texas Military Department, said the initial “boots on the ground” being sent to the Texas border initially will determine where the remaining troops will go, and what they will do.
In past deployments of Guard troops to the Texas border, he said, “they have been in observation, reporting and support roles.” This time, he said, “DHS will determine what the requirements are.”
DHS officials in Texas said Friday they had no details on the planned role for the Guard.
On Wednesday, Trump signed a memorandum dispatching the Guard to the U.S. border with Mexico, a development that followed his increasing calls for more border security as a large caravan of U.S.-bound migrants was said to move northward through Mexico. Many of those in the caravan, which had dropped to about 800 people Friday, are from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Organizers have said the caravan will end in Mexico City.
Insisting in the memorandum that “the security of the United States is imperiled by a drastic surge of illegal activity on the southern border,” Trump said the troops would work with federal agents and state police already assigned to the border.
“During the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the National Guard provided support for efforts to secure our southern border,” the memo states. “The crisis at our southern border once again calls for the National Guard to help secure our border and protect our homeland.”
Immigration advocacy groups have criticized the move, and complained of what they said was a militarization of the border. Mexican politicians condemned Trump’s decision. According to the Associated Press, the Mexican Senate approved a resolution calling for the suspension of that country’s cooperation with the United States on immigration and drug trafficking operations in retaliation.
The small contingent of Guard troops already deployed along the border, as part of a two-year, $800 million state initiative to curb smuggling and illegal border crossings, support federal agents and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Abbott, who has maintained a dwindling Guard presence along the border, was among the first to applaud the president’s call for a troop surge.
For months, border crossings have been historically low despite a spike last month that U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials was being closely monitored. Other officials suggested it a seasonal uptick.
A DHS study last fall had determined the border was the most secure it had been in years.
Trump has directed top federal officials to compile a report within the next month outlining steps that can be taken quickly to combat an increase in crossings, and to curb “a drastic surge of illegal activity on the southern border.”
Like Abbott, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has welcomed the deployment. “Washington has ignored this issue for too long and help is needed. For Arizona, it’s all about public safety,” he tweeted.
Friday’s deployment of Texas Guard troops was the latest since 2006.
Back then, President George W. Bush send 6,000 troops to Mexican border as part of Operation Jump Start, which lasted two years and cost $1.2 billion. President Barack Obama sent 1,200 troops to the border in 2010 at a cost of $500 million, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry spent millions in 2014 to send troops there to back up his criticism that federal officials were lax on border security — just as he ramped up his unsuccessful presidential campaign.