The mobilization of 250 Texas National Guard troops to the U.S. border with Mexico began Friday night in the first deployment following President Donald Trump’s call this week for more troops to help patrol for undocumented immigrants and other perceived “threats.”
More troops will be sent “once mission requirements and locations are determined,” CNN reported, citing Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Tracy Norris.
The planned deployment of up to 4,000 National Guard troops from various states follows exaggerated claims this week by Trump administration officials that the situation at the U.S.–Mexico border has become an urgent “national security situation.” The mobilization is expected to last through Sept. 30, just ahead of midterm elections in the U.S.
“Always Ready, Always There!” Gen. Joseph Lengyel tweeted Friday night. “Moving up to 500 #NationalGuard troops immediately on the SW border security mission. Vehicles, equipment & helicopters on the way tonight.”
The start of the operation follows an order signed Friday night by Defense Secretary James Mattis, The New York Times reported.
However, it is unclear how much the operation will cost the federal government, how many states will actually send troops, and which troops will be armed. Additionally, federal law prohibits National Guard troops from actually enforcing laws, so their role in the operation appears to be limited to training, construction, and gathering intelligence, according to CNN.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, also said his state would deploy 150 members of the National Guard to the border next week. Montana’s governor, Steve Bullock, a Democrat, said his state would not send the National Guard, the Times reported.
Members of the first wave of deployments in Texas will join about 100 National Guard soldiers the state already has placed along the border.
Faced with failure so far on moving forward his “big, beautiful” border wall, Trump earlier this week called for the militarization of the country’s border with Mexico. The president appeared flummoxed and agitated about the “refugee caravan” of mostly Honduran migrants making their way through Mexico after fleeing violence back home. He reportedly learned of the caravan from Fox News.
“Yesterday, it came out where this journey [is] coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before,” Trump falsely claimed on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen struggled to provide reporters with specific details about why National Guard troops are needed now. Then, on Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo directing federal prosecutors along the border to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy toward undocumented immigrants trying to enter the country.
As Splinter’s Paul Blest noted, all of this appears to be a desperate move by the administration to rally members of Trump’s anti–immigrant base ahead of midterm elections that could turn out to be a disaster for Republicans. But the tactic of projecting strength by emphasizing a border threat isn’t new, as Blest pointed out. Both presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama sent National Guard troops to the border—Bush in May 2006 and Obama in May 2010.
Update, Saturday, 2:52 p.m.: And right on cue, President Donald Trump gave an indication via Twitter of his real motivations behind sending National Guard troops to the border.
“We are sealing up our Southern Border. The people of our great country want Safety and Security. The Dems have been a disaster on this very important issue!” he tweeted on Saturday.