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California governor challenges Trump on National Guard role at Mexico border

A Texas Guardsmen and a U.S. Border Patrol agent talk on April 10, 2018 at the shore of the Rio Grande River in Starr County, Texas.

MARK OTTE/U.S. ARMY

By DIANNA CAHN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 17, 2018

WASHINGTON — California National Guard troops are “chomping at the bit” to deploy to the U.S.-Mexico border to fight crime, Gov. Jerry Brown said Tuesday, but are not interested in immigration enforcement.

Brown has said that he wanted the Guard to help prevent cross-border criminal and gang activities but would not allow his forces to be used to aid in rounding up “desperate mothers and children or unaccompanied minors.”

National Guard troops from the three other border states -- Arizona, Texas and New Mexico -- have already deployed more than 900 troops, customs officials said Monday.

“The other three Republican governors have a political affiliation I don’t share,” said Brown, a Democrat. “But I am concerned about our borders. I am concerned about shipments of drugs not only over land but onto shores of California, and human trafficking, and I am concerned about the guns that are going from California, Arizona and Texas” to the cartels.

Defense and border protection officials repeated Monday that National Guard forces would not be called upon to conduct immigration enforcement activities.

Speaking to the press, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner Ron Vitiello said troops will monitor cameras and sensors, provide aerial support, repair roads and vehicles, do administrative work and clear brush — jobs that don’t involve law enforcement and won’t put them in harm’s way.

“That’s the red line,” he said.

Vitiello said Brown was asked to send troops in support of border agents at two locations – San Diego and El Centro, just north of Calexico. California was not willing to do that, Vitiello said Monday, but there were ongoing discussions about other duties the Guard could perform.

“We have a requirement in California which we now understand won’t be fulfilled by the Guard there,” Vitiello said. “The governor has determined that what we’ve asked for so far is unsupportable. But we will have other iterations.”

In a tweet Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump blamed Brown for failing to reach agreement on the issue.

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“Looks like Jerry Brown and California are not looking for safety and security along their very porous border. He cannot come to terms for the National Guard in its border mission. The high crime rate will only get higher. Much wanted wall in San Diego already started,” Trump tweeted.

But Brown said Tuesday that an agreement for using its forces was near.

“I think we’ve already come to terms as far as I understand it, but we haven’t gotten any written confirmation,” he said. “But our National Guard general has been in touch with National Guard people in Washington, and from his perspective, he knows what the mission is. He’s ready to go.”

Bob Salesses, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Homeland Defense Integration and Defense Support of Civil Authorities, said Monday that California would not allow its troops to conduct operational support jobs, including motor transport maintenance, radio communications, heavy equipment operations, some planning administration or clerical jobs, or surveillance camera operations.

“We are in continuing dialogue – discussion – with the California National Guard and will work closely with Chief Vitiello to see if there’s other kinds of responsibilities that California might fill,” he said.

About 250 troops from Arizona, 60 from New Mexico and 650 from Texas have deployed, Lt. Gen. David Hokanson, vice chief of the National Guard, said Monday. Those numbers are increasing regularly, he said.

Vitiello said his agency, along with the Pentagon and the National Guard, began looking at using Guard troops a couple of weeks before Trump’s April 4 announcement about their deployment to the border.

Hokanson said that while Trump said up to 4,000 troops could deploy in sectors along the nearly 2,000-mile border, the current request is for 2,000 through Sept. 30.

None of the troops will have direct contact with personnel on the border, Hokanson said, and the jobs will not require them to be armed.

Vitiello said that unlike in Operation Jump Start – when Guard soldiers deployed to the border in 2006 – the soldiers will not be in support roles that require border patrolmen to serve as force protection.

Still, he said some Guardsmen will be allowed to carry personal sidearms for self defense as determined by the states and in coordination with his agency.

Salesses said the Pentagon was still trying to determine the cost of the operation and could not say which Defense budget accounts would be used.

“Right now we are cash flowing – that’s coming from the National Guard accounts, the training accounts right now,” he said. Later, the Defense Department could pull from “under-obligated accounts” in the defense budget.

cahn.dianna@stripes.com
Twitter: @DiannaCahn

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