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Governors Remain Hot and Cold on Trump’s National Guard Border Plan

The U.S.-Mexico border near Tijuana.

The U.S.-Mexico border near Tijuana. Shutterstock

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While many Republican governors have offered enthusiastic support, one has offered a low-key dismissal of the plan.

Over the weekend, governors lined up for and against the White House’s plan to deploy up to 4,000 members of the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to a recent uptick in illegal crossings.

Nevada’s Brian Sandoval became the first Republican to come out against the plan. He told the Associated Press on Friday he didn’t think it would be “an appropriate use” of the Nevada National Guard.

His low-key dismissal of the plan, voiced through a spokesperson’s email, contrasted with enthusiastic support offered by Republican governors from states around the country.    

Far from the southern border, North Dakota’s Gov. Doug Burgum said his state stood ready to “answer the call.” Burgum told the AP: “We North Dakotans know from experience how critical it is for states to support each other in times of need.”

Democrats Steve Bullock of Montana and Kate Brown of Oregon led early opposition to the plan. Bullock told the AP he would never make the decision to put his state’s soldiers in harm’s way "based simply on the whim of the President's morning Twitter habit." Brown tweeted that she was “deeply troubled” by the president’s plan to “militarize our border.”

On Saturday, former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, called opposition to the new border plan “outrageous.”

“[T]hey're just sitting on their hands and doing nothing,” Brewer told Neil Cavuto on Fox News. “They're not taking the issue seriously. It's outrageous that they're doing what they're doing."

In fact, the Trump administration so far has tapped only the governors of the four Southwest border states as partners in the plan—Greg Abbott from Texas, Jerry Brown from California, Doug Ducey from Arizona and Susana Martinez from New Mexico.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen spoke with the four governors on a conference call Thursday. “Just concluded a productive conversation with the southwest border governors,” she tweeted.

California’s Jerry Brown, the only Democrat among the four governors, participated in the call, CNN confirmed, but over the weekend he left reporters merely to parse a statement released last Wednesday by Lt. Col. Tom Keegan, a spokesman for the California Army National Guard.

"This request—as with others we've received from the Department of Homeland Security, including those for additional staffing in 2006 and 2010—will be promptly reviewed to determine how best we can assist our federal partners," Keegan wrote. "We look forward to more detail, including funding, duration and end state."

By contrast, Arizona Gov. Ducey on Saturday announced on Twitter Friday that he would deploy 150 troops to the border this week, and Texas Gov. Abbott’s military department has committed to sending 250 troops to the border as part of the effort along with military equipment and aircraft.

The National Guard deployment plan comes in lieu of major progress on the promised U.S.-Mexico border wall that Trump made a centerpiece of his election campaign.  

Trump’s National Guard border operation is only just taking shape, but it already echoes presidential operations of the past. Trump’s immediate predecessors both launched border-security operations that deployed the National Guard.

In 2006, nearly every U.S. state contributed Guard members to then-President George W. Bush’s Operation Jump Start. In 2010, more than a thousand Guard members under orders from Democratic and Republican border-state governors joined forces to carry out then-President Barack Obama’s Operation Phalanx.

Despite the rise in illegal border crossings recorded last month, the number of people illegally crossing the country’s southern border has fallen dramatically over the last two administrations: In 2000, the number was nearly 1.7 million a year; today it’s less than 311,000 a year.

John Tomasic is a journalist who lives in Seattle.

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