Nearly two dozen states are sending National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to help federal immigration officials grapple with an unprecedented surge of illegal immigrants.
The deployments, which were requested by the Department of Defense (DOD), call for up to 2,500 National Guard members from Republican-led states like Kentucky, South Carolina, and Arkansas, as well as Democratic-led states such as Rhode Island and Illinois.
The troops were requested by the Defense Department to assist U.S. Border Patrol in dealing with a surge of illegal trafficking of people, weapons, and drugs into the country. The troops will work only in support missions, a Defense Department spokesman said, and are prohibited under federal law from detaining illegal immigrants or others caught crossing into the United States illegally.
Other states sending troops include Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, DOD officials said.
Several other states—Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oregon, Utah, and Washington—will be providing National Guard aviation support for border operations, according to the department. The U.S. Virgin Islands has also committed National Guard troops to the mission, which is being overseen by the U.S. Northern Command.
For the Biden administration, the deployments are similar to those used by former President Donald Trump to deal with a surge of illegal immigration during his presidency.
In 2018, Trump deployed National Guard troops from several states to support U.S. Customs and Border Protection along the southern border. In a presidential memorandum, the Republican cited a “drastic surge of illegal activity on the southern border” threatening national security.
Unlike Trump, Biden doesn’t appear to have issued any statements on the deployments, leaving it up to states to make announcements about commitments of National Guard troops.
In New Hampshire, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said more than 160 National Guard soldiers from the 941st Military Police Battalion and 237th Military Police Company will be dispatched for a one-year mission to conduct surveillance and support other U.S. troops on the ground along a 250-mile section of the southern border.
Sununu said the troops—which were deployed to the border in 2020 and 2021 under similar orders—are needed to deal with “the ongoing humanitarian crisis along our southern border.”
The U.S. Border Patrol has apprehended illegal immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border more than 1.8 million times since October, breaking previous records, according to the agency. The Center Square, through its sources, reported in August the number of illegal entries is nearly 5 million since Biden began to occupy the White House in January 2020.
Roughly half of those immigrants were expelled under Title 42, a federal public health order that has been in place since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hundreds of thousands more illegal immigrants have been allowed to seek asylum and other protections in the United States, according to immigration officials.
Republican governors in Texas and Arizona have criticized the Biden administration’s response to the surge.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster last year in response to the higher volume of unlawful border crossings at the Southwest border, and has directed state and local police to ramp up arrests of unauthorized immigrants. Abbott has also deployed thousands of National Guard troops along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Groups that support tougher immigration restrictions say the deployment of the National Guard troops will help overburdened federal agencies deal with the surge of illegal immigration.
“It will definitely be helpful to have more boots on the ground there, because the border patrol is absolutely overwhelmed,” said Jessica Vaughn, director of policy studies at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies. “One of the biggest security problems is that federal officials are so distracted dealing with migrants that the border is totally unguarded.”
Vaughn said the Biden administration’s response to the “historic” surge of migrants has been “totally inadequate” and border states are bearing the brunt of the illegal crossings.
“It’s clear from the Biden administration’s response that they are not interested in stopping the influx of illegal immigrants,” she said. “They have many tools at their disposal that they could be using to put a stop to the illegal crossings, but they have not done that.”
By Christian Wade