PHOENIX – Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey dispatched 225 Arizona National Guard soldiers to the border Monday and said more will come later this week, the first of up to 4,000 troops that could be deployed over a four-state area.
The action comes less than a week after President Donald Trump called for a military presence along the Mexican border to help the Department of Homeland Security tackle “illegal drugs, dangerous gang activity and extensive illegal immigration.”
Ducey, who met with sheriffs Monday before addressing troops in the first wave of what he called Operation Guardian Shield, said state, local and federal governments need to work together do “what Washington has failed to do for too long – secure the southern border.”
“Arizona welcomes the deployment of National Guard to the border. Washington has ignored this issue for too long and help is needed,” Ducey wrote in a tweet. “For Arizona, it’s all about public safety.”
But critics, including Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, said a military deployment was more likely to “do irreversible damage” than improve the situation on the border.
“Governor Ducey, granting the deployment of the U.S. National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border is a mistake and an ineffective and wasteful use of U.S. military resources,” Grijalva said in a letter to Ducey that he released Monday.
Grijalva said the border is one of the safest places in the state and border crossings are at a 45-year low. He suggested the money for deployment would be better spent upgrading the state’s six international ports of entry.
Isabel Garcia, the co-chair of the Tucson-based Coalición de Derechos Humanos, called the move “anti-human.”
“We’re going to fight the militarization of the border,” Garcia said, adding that she will work to support Ducey’s challenger in his upcoming re-election campaign.
“How dare Ducey claim that he’s a friend of the Hispanics … and then at the same time agree with this racist president?” she said. “We’re going to call for defeating him.”
But not all Arizonans are opposed to the measure. Fred Davis, a rancher who lives and works 25 miles from the border, said his community has been “screaming for somebody to do something for 30 years” and is in full support of Trump and Ducey.
“Somebody has to make a show of force to Mexico,” Davis said.
The troops are being deployed under Title 32, which means that although they remain under the control of the governors of their respective states, federal funds will pay for the operation.
Title 32 units typically act in law enforcement roles, but the Trump administration has said guardsmen in this deployment – as in previous deployments to the border under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama – will be limited to support roles and will not be making arrests themselves.
That was confirmed Monday by Ducey’s office, which said in a statement that Arizona guardsmen would act in “mission-enhancing capabilities” that will free up Border Patrol agents in the field.
“This mission is about providing manpower and resources to support federal, state, county, tribal and local law enforcement agencies in stopping the flow of criminals, narcotics, weapons and ammunition trafficked in the state,” the statement said.
Those duties will include “air support, reconnaissance support, operational support, construction of border infrastructure, and logistical support.”
The soldiers were deployed to the Yuma and Tucson sectors of U.S. Customs and Border Protection on 31-day orders, but the governor’s office said those orders “can be extended once the mission is further established and roles are more defined.”
The National Guard will act as support for Border Patrol rather than taking a “law enforcement role,” according to a statement from Customs and Border Protection. Both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama deployed the National Guard to the border during their time in office.
“Under the law,” said Garcia of Coalición de Derechos Humanos, “it’s no different than what happened with Obama and Bush, but because it’s Donald Trump who’s saying we’re going to build the wall … it’s more politics than anything. Both sides are gnashing their teeth because of the political climate.”
Although Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has declined to indicate how long the operation might last, Trump said last week that he expected to keep the units “or a large portion of them, until such time as we get the wall.”
Nielsen and Defense Secretary James Mattis said in a joint statement late Friday that they had worked with the border-state governors to identify areas that guardsmen could address. This weekend, Mattis authorized deployment of 4,000 troops.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has had guardsmen on his border with Mexico for some time. The governors of California and New Mexico have not said publicly how they plan to respond to the president’s request.
The Mexican Foreign Ministry has said it was assured by Nielsen that guardsmen would not be armed and would not be making arrests but would be acting in support roles only. But the ministry said it will be watching to make sure the border does not become more militarized than it already is.
Grijalva said deploying troops send the wrong message to Mexico and to America.
“The state of Arizona must not be used as a political pawn that will leave visitors questioning the safety of our state,” he said in his letter to Ducey.