A day after he talked about sending U.S. troops to the Mexican border, President Trump will ask governors to help him deploy the National Guard in order to block illegal crossings, an official said Wednesday.
Trump plans to sign a proclamation directing the Pentagon and Homeland Security officials to “work together with our governors to deploy the National Guard to our southwest border to assist the Border Patrol,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said.
As critics accused Trump of playing politics with border security, the White House did not provide specifics in terms of number of National Guard troops, length of service on the border, or financial costs.
“It will take time to have the details in place, but we are beginning today and we are moving quickly,” Nielsen said.
In an earlier tweet pledging action, Trump said: “Our Border Laws are very weak while those of Mexico & Canada are very strong. Congress must change these Obama era, and other, laws NOW! The Democrats stand in our way – they want people to pour into our country unchecked….CRIME!”
Trump did not specify what he has in mind, though he told reporters Tuesday that “we’re going to be doing things militarily” on the U.S.-Mexico border until his proposed anti-migration wall is built.
“Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military,” Trump said. “That’s a big step.”
Hours later, aides who seemed caught by surprise by the president’s announcement put out a statement saying that he received a briefing “to discuss his administration’s strategy, which includes the mobilization of the National Guard.”
Trump and his team, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford, also agreed “on the need to pressure Congress to urgently pass legislation to close legal loopholes exploited by criminal trafficking, narco-terrorist and smuggling organizations,” the statement said.
The renewed emphasis on border security comes less than two weeks after Trump supporters criticized him for signing a spending bill that did not fund the border wall.
While Trump and aides hailed a recent downturn in illegal immigration, they also claimed a recent spike back up requires action.
“We’ve recently seen the numbers of illegal border crossings rise from 40-year lows last April to back to previous levels,” Nielsen said.
The number of people caught trying to illegally cross the southwest border in Fiscal Year 2017 was 303,916, the lowest since 1971. Those numbers continued to fall in the first six months of Fiscal Year 2018, according to statistics from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
From October to March, the total number of people caught trying to cross the southwest border — 173,599 — is down 13% compared to the same time period the previous year. Through February, the number of unaccompanied minors had fallen 36% over the previous year’s same time period, and the number of family units (parents traveling with minor children) had fallen 46% over that time.
In March, 37,393 immigrants were caught along the southwest border, the highest monthly total since December 2016.
Immigration groups cited these numbers in attacking Trump’s plans for the National Guard.
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, said the president is responding to “criticism from the likes of (commentator) Ann Coulter and Fox News” over the lack of funding for the wall. He denounced the idea of using troops to perform law enforcement duties that are already succeeding.
“Trump’s National Guard ploy is just plain stupid,” Sharry said.
In a series of tweets in recent days, Trump has also criticized a caravan on Honduran refugees passing through Mexico en route to the United States. While announcing his military plan for the border, Trump praised Mexico for efforts to break up the caravan.
Neither Trump nor aides provided details on how militarizing the border would work.
Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama also deployed limited numbers of National Guard troops on the border for short periods of time.
The White House said that, last week, Trump received a briefing “on the growing influx of illegal immigration, drugs and violent gang members from Central America, and directed a vigorous administrative strategy to confront this threat and protect America’s national security.”
Some lawmakers criticized Trump’s idea of sending troops to the border, saying it would be a waste of military resources and a political gesture at best.
Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., called it “the latest chapter in his reign of terror meant to wreak havoc on immigrants and residents of border communities. After his failure to secure funding for his ‘big beautiful wall,’ he is clearly grasping for straws.”