A National Guard UH-72 Lakota helicopter prepares to fly in support of Customs and Border Protection-led Operation Phalanx on July 17, 2013. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Malcolm McClendon)

‘Rapid’ Border Deployment Expected as Nielsen Talks with Governors, Mexico

The White House and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Wednesday that the administration is forging ahead with plans to deploy an unspecified number of National Guard troops to the southern border, pending agreements with border governors.

Both Nielsen and Mexico’s foreign ministry gave accounts of discussions about the planned border deployment that resembled previous deployments under the Bush and Obama administrations: unarmed troops operating in a support role to the Border Patrol.

A senior administration official told reporters on a conference call that the administration had determined its policy changes thus far weren’t having “a long-term impact on immigration — illegal immigration,” so President Trump directed the National Guard deployment and “we’ll be seeing that happen quickly.”

“These troops will be deployed in a manner where they — it’ll be in cooperation with the border governors. Therefore, we’re working with them to identify better some of the areas where they’ll be deployed, some of the mission sets they’ll be supporting and the timelines in which they will be heading to the border,” the official said. “That’s all happening very rapidly. We expect personnel to be on the border quickly. But, at this time, we don’t have a date. But that will be coming soon.”

Reporters were told that the administration plans on simultaneously pushing a “very vigorous legislative strategy,” including on transnational gangs and sanctuary cities, while trying to ensure that “in the spring, summer, the issue of border security is probably going to be one of the biggest issues on Congress’ plate” before midterm elections.

Officials characterized Nielsen’s initial conversations with border governors as “very good” and “productive.”

At the top of the daily White House briefing, Nielsen asserted that “smugglers themselves are gaming the system, pure and simple” and “take advantage of the loopholes in our laws,” including asylum claims and crossing the border as a family unit. “They know that we cannot prosecute as we need to to stop their behavior. And they know, in some cases, it takes many years for them to be removed. This, in addition, creates a massive magnet for additional illegal immigration, TCO activity and criminal activity across our border,” she said.

“…We will not allow illegal immigration levels to become the norm. More than 1,000 people a day, 300,000 a year, violating our sovereignty as a nation will never be acceptable to this president.”

Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray and Nielsen spoke Wednesday about Mexico’s concerns following Trump declaring that he was sending military to the border.

“Secretary Nielsen informed the Mexican government of the following aspects of the decision to deploy the National Guard to the border with our country: 1. The National Guard will only support the Department of Homeland Security. 2. The elements of the National Guard will not carry weapons or carry out immigration or customs control functions. 3. This is a deployment of the National Guard with characteristics comparable to those that took place in 2006, during the administration of President George W. Bush, with Operation Jump Start, and in 2010, during the administration of President Barack Obama, with Operation Phalanx,” the ministry said in a statement.

“In all communications on the subject, the government of Mexico has expressed to the United States government that, if the announced deployment of the National Guard resulted in a militarization of the border, it would seriously damage the bilateral relationship,” they added.

Nielsen confirmed to reporters that she and border governors had discussed “support activities that are very similar to Jump Start.”

“So it wouldn’t be actual enforcement then?” a reporter asked.

“Correct, as of now, as of now. Yes,” Nielsen replied.

Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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