Eighty soldiers from the New Mexico National Guard are headed to the border following President Donald Trump’s call for a greater military presence along the country’s southern frontier.
Aides to Gov. Susana Martinez said Monday the troops, due to report for duty this week, will serve in a support role for the U.S. Border Patrol and that 250 soldiers are eventually expected to serve in the operation.
It will hardly be the first time troops have moved into the borderland. But with the details and scope of the mission still scarce, critics argued the latest operation amounts to a wasteful political stunt for a president who campaigned on sealing the border regardless of what that actually means for the people who live along it.
Trump issued a proclamation Wednesday directing federal agencies to work with governors on deploying troops to the country’s boundary with Mexico as part of what his administration described as “ongoing efforts to mitigate the crisis on our border.”
From Sunland Park west of El Paso, Texas, to the rugged Bootheel, New Mexico’s share of the international border spans about 180 miles. While the number of people caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border without papers has generally declined in recent years, New Mexico’s portion has been a key corridor for trade and economic development. And many still cross it each day with papers, such as students who live in Mexico but attend school in the United States.
Martinez — a Republican — has been critical in the past of the president’s approach to border security and immigration. But a spokesman said Monday that officials from the New Mexico National Guard met over the weekend with federal officials to discuss the operation.
“The safety of all New Mexicans is our first and foremost concern which is why our soldiers will participate in this operation,” Larry Behrens, a spokesman for the governor, said in an email.
The governor’s office said soldiers serving in this operation will require training and background checks. Under the law Trump invoked for the operation, the federal government would pay the state’s costs.
Border Patrol officials have said that troops could aid with air support, surveillance and repairs of infrastructure along the border so federal agents could focus on enforcing immigration laws.
Trump has said he wants to muster between 2,000 and 4,000 soldiers.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said his state will commit at least 1,000 National Guard troops . And the Arizona National Guard said Monday that it will deploy more than 300 troops. Unclear is whether California, the only other state sharing a border with Mexico, will also dispatch soldiers. Its governor, Democrat Jerry Brown, has clashed repeatedly with Trump and has been quiet on the president’s call to mobilize National Guard personnel.
Then-Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, ordered troops to the border in 2010.
In a statement, Richardson bluntly criticized the current decision to send soldiers to the border, calling it ill-advised, arguing there has been no increase in illegal immigration from Mexico and contending that the president’s claims to the contrary are nothing more than a political ploy to build support for “a needless border wall that is both impractical and overly expensive.”
“When I asked for National Guard and law enforcement assistance in 2010, it was in response to violent crime and drug activity in Columbus, New Mexico,” he said. “It was a narrowly based operation and in cooperation with Chihuahua state authorities. Governor Martinez is catering to President Trump’s anti-immigration and anti-NAFTA agenda, which is not good for New Mexicans.”
The issue is not necessarily a partisan one, either, with some on the border raising concerns about the president’s depiction of a place that is home for many New Mexicans.
“While almost everyone agrees about the need for physical security at the border, the president’s action again reinforces the negative stereotype that the border, especially this borderplex region, is a lawless, dangerous frontier,” Jon Barela, the governor’s former economic development secretary, said on Twitter. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Andrew Oxford at 505-986-3093 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewboxford.