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U.S. Border Patrol agent scans the Imperial Valley area for signs of illegal crossings. (Photo: CBP.gov)

Trump directs National Guard deployment to US-Mexico border

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WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) — President Donald Trump has signed a proclamation directing the National Guard to be deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border to support Border Patrol personnel. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen announced the move on Wednesday during the White House press briefing.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense have already begun coordinating with state governors on plans to deploy the National Guard to help secure the border, Nielsen said.

"While plans are being finalized, it's our expectation that the National Guard will deploy personnel in support of CBP's [Customs and Border Protection] border security mission," Nielsen said at the White House. "It will take time to have the details in place but we are beginning today and we are moving quickly."

The decision to send military resources to the border was informed by the "unacceptable level" of illegal drugs, gang activity, transnational criminal organizations and illegal immigration flows across the southern border, the secretary explained. When asked about the timing of Trump's directive, Nielsen explained, "The president is frustrated."

The decision came after days of Trump fuming over America's "weak" and "dumb" immigration laws and pointing to reports of a "caravan" of Central American migrants traveling through Mexico en route to the United States.

Referring to these reports, Trump argued Tuesday, "We need the wall, we need the protection, and we have to change our immigration laws at the border and elsewhere." He later stated, "Until we can have a wall and proper security, we're going to be guarding our border with the military. That's a big step. We really haven’t done that before — certainly not very much before."

Donald Trump will not be the first president to use the military to bolster security at the southern border. In 2006, President George W. Bush sent an unprecedented 6,000 National Guard personnel to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Under President Barack Obama, approximately 1,500 members of the National Guard were sent to assist local, state and federal authorities in 2010.

Former Department of Homeland Security officials who worked under both former presidents at the time of those operations addressed some of the challenges Donald Trump can expect to face as the order goes into effect.

Theresa Cardinal Brown worked at Customs and Border Protection during the Bush administration and now heads the Bipartisan Policy Center's immigration policy program. She explained that there are "legal, fiscal and political issues" that will determine what Donald Trump is able to do with a military deployment to the southern border.

"Fundamentally, there will be some limitations to how much he can actually use the military to secure the border and he will encounter those," she said, adding that "what the president says and what he can do may not be the same."

Legally, Trump cannot deploy the military to enforce domestic law. For example, the Army cannot apprehend individuals or make arrests at the border. When Bush and Obama sent the National Guard to the border states, they played a support role, taking care of surveillance, border fence repairs and office work, which freed up CBP agents to enforce the border.

Trump wants the military to guard the border, but he could face some hurdles

The fiscal and political costs of sending the military to the border either have to be borne by the states or Congress. Texas has had National Guard personnel deployed to assist border operations since 2014. Gov. Gregg Abbott's office issued a statement Tuesday announcing support for Trump's proposal.

Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona also issued a statement on Twitter voicing his support for the decision to deploy the National Guard.

Other border state governors have not spoken out publicly, but according to Secretary Nielsen, are communicating with the Trump administration.

The political and fiscal challenges in Washington could be trickier. After concluding drag-out fight over the 2018 budget, members of Congress are not likely to return to the drawing board to secure new money or new authorities to allow Trump to send troops to the border.

So far, the Republican chairmen of the House and Senate homeland security committees have issued statements in support of the military deployment to the southern border and indicating their support for "closing dangerous loopholes" in existing immigration law.

Deploying the National Guard is "very symbolic," explained John Sandweg, former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement under President Obama. "Politically it sends a very loud message, but it's not going to solve the current problem. "

Sandweg noted that "the National Guard at the border can really be a valuable force multiplier for Border Patrol." They can provide additional surveillance and detection capability, aerial support and resources on the ground to stop individuals from illegally crossing the border.

Those capabilities helped roll back the surge of illegal immigrants and traffickers who were evading capture at the border when Barack Obama ordered the National Guard to the border in 2010. They also helped President Bush when more than 1 million migrants were illegally crossing the border every year.

"In this current environment, we're actually facing a different threat," Sandweg argued.

In recent years, since 2014, the United States has seen a large proportion of migrants coming from Central America, not Mexico, and seeking asylum. In 2013 only one in 100 migrants claimed "credible fear" when apprehended at the border. The most recent statistics show that number has increased to one in ten.

"Rather than trying to avoid capture, they're surrendering themselves, in the majority of instances, to border control and seeking political asylum in the United States," Sandweg said.

DHS estimates 50 percent of the individuals detained at the border who are not qualified to enter the country legally are from Central America. Under current law, U.S. immigration officials cannot deport an individual who is seeking asylum, is an unaccompanied minor or is coming from a country other than Mexico until their claims can be processed and they can be safely, legally returned to their country of origin.

This has created conditions where immigration courts processing asylum requests are "backlogged," and immigration enforcement has the ability to interdict without the ability to promptly remove unqualified migrants. "That is not border security," Nielsen argued.

Trump described the issue Tuesday, saying, "It's called catch-and-release. You catch them, you register them, they go into our country and we can't throw them out...They're supposed to come back to court. Almost nobody comes back to court. They're in our country, and we can't do anything about it because the laws that were created by Democrats are so pathetic and so weak."

The president's order is also coming at a time that typically marks a surge of activity along the southern border.

During the first months of President Trump's presidency, illegal border crossings dropped to a 45-year low of 310,500. In recent months, immigration officials have noted an increase in activity at the border that the Department of Homeland Security expects will continue in the coming months, following season migration trends.

CBP has documented a 35 percent increase in the number of border apprehensions between February 2017 and February 2018.

"The numbers continue to increase," Secretary Nielsen said, noting that April is traditionally a month when illegal border crossings tend to increase. In recent months, DHS has documented increased activity from traffickers and smugglers instructing individuals on how to surrender at the border and take advantage of U.S. laws and the immigration courts to illegally enter the country.

In addition to coordinating the National Guard deployment, President Trump has also signaled his intent to work with Congress to change U.S. immigration laws and close the loopholes that are being exploited by traffickers.

This is potentially an issue that could earn bipartisan support in Congress, depending on how it is done, Brown said. "This is an issue that lawmakers, before the election of Donald Trump, were trying to address," she noted. Whether or not the president will be able to cut a deal with Congress on immigration will be complicated even further by the upcoming midterm elections.

The Trump administration has signaled a desire to change the current "catch and release law," a policy that allows non-Mexican migrants to be released into the U.S. interior and waiting, sometimes for months or years for a court date, after they are caught at the border.

The Justice Department announced earlier this week that it will impose quotas on immigration judges, to pressure them to process cases more quickly. Judges face hundreds of thousands of cases each year and an increasing number of cases involving unaccompanied minors and individuals seeking asylum.

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