The Trump administration could deploy National Guard troops as part of a security crackdown at the U.S.-Mexico border as soon as tonight, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on Wednesday, but she had no real answers to give about how many National Guard members would be deployed, for what length of time, and why the issue has become so urgent.
“Today’s the day we want to start this process,” she told White House reporters. “It’s not a new concept, it’s nothing new, it’s been done before.”
Nielsen confirmed in the White House press briefing that President Trump is working with border state governors to facilitate “immediate” deployment of troops. Trump has for days railed against the “caravan” of immigrants, mostly from Honduras, fleeing gang violence in Central America through Mexico.
But among the questions left unanswered: Why now? Asked point blank if Trump made his vague call this week to deploy troops—a directive that reportedly sent his own aides scrambling to figure out what the hell he was talking about—based on something he saw on TV, Nielsen dodged. (After Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders took the reigns back, she also declined to say whether Trump got the idea from watching Fox News.)
“I think what’s true is the president is frustrated,” she said. “He’s been very clear he wants to secure the border.”
But the Homeland Security secretary, who repeatedly emphasized the “urgency” of these deployments as an “national security” issue, wasn’t able to answer questions about the scope, cost, or duration of the troops’ border deployment. Asked for a ballpark estimation of how this Trump’s directive would compare to former President George W. Bush deploying 6,000 members of the National Guard to assist Border Patrol agents at a cost of $1.2 billionc *(President Obama also sent 1,200 troops to the border) Nielsen only said, “It will be strong” and that “as many [troops] as needed to fill the gaps that exist” would be sent.
And then Nielsen gave this rambling response to a direct question from CNN’s Jeff Zeleny about why exactly the troops are needed right this second:
I think, you know, I would say that the numbers continue to increase. April traditionally is a month in which we see more folks crossing the border without a legal right to do so. So, partly it’s modeling. Partly it’s anticipating. We are seeing more and more advertising very unfortunately by the traffickers and smugglers to our south, specific to how to get around our system and enter our country and stay. We have documented cases of ‘borrowing’ children, appearing at the border as a family unit in a fraudulent way, so why today not yesterday, tomorrow? Today, today is the day. Today is the day we want to start this process.
Just after the briefing concluded, Attorney General Jeff Sessions put out a statement directly tying Trump’s order to the “caravan,” saying that, after media reports on the immigrant groups, “The president was clear that this caravan needed to be stopped before it arrived at our southern border.” Sessions also cited “media outlets” reporting on the “caravan,” again leaving open the question of whether what could be a major deployment of troops all started because of something Sean Hannity said.