President Trump's decision to deploy military troops to the border to help border agents stop illegal immigrants from crossing into the country is setting up yet another border battle with California and Jerry Brown, its popular liberal governor.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Wednesday announced the plan to send National Guard troops to the southwestern border in non-law enforcement, supportive roles and said the administration would be coordinating those deployments with governors from border states.
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While Texas's and Arizona's GOP governors readily embraced the White House plan, Brown and other Democrats on the front lines of the golden state's Trump resistance movement appear eager for another feud with Trump over illegal immigration and the long-term media spotlight that fight would inevitably bring.
Brown remained quiet about the White House announcement until late in the day when the Los Angeles Times posted a story saying Brown's office had referred questions to the California National Guard. A Guard spokesman said it is unwilling to commit to the effort without key details, including the number of troops, the duration of their deployment and the cost.
The spokesman pledged only to "promptly" review the administration's request "to determine how best to assist our federal partners."
Kevin de Leon, the former top Democrat in the state Senate who is challenging Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D., Calif.) from the left, denied Trump's claims of a dramatic uptick in illegal immigrants trying to cross into the United States and urged Brown to "ignore Trump’s expensive call to send [the] National Guard to the border."
In a tweet late Wednesday afternoon, Leon said Trump "can rant all he wants but there's no imminent influx of asylum seekers coming to the U.S. Border crossings along our southern border are at their lowest since 1971."
Leon is the author of SB 54, the state's so-called sanctuary state bill that has prompted a federal lawsuit and a revolt in Orange County and other conservative enclaves in the state. The law prohibits local law enforcement from communicating with federal authorities when it comes to the release of illegal immigrants charged or convicted of crimes.
While arrests of illegal immigrants along Mexico's border have declined to record lows under Trump last year, new statistics show a dramatic increase in recent months, according to administration officials.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics show 36,695 apprehensions of people trying to cross the southwest border in February 2018, up from 23,555 in the same month the previous year.
Administration officials said internal Homeland Security figures for March were even higher, although the agency has yet to release them. Officials also are worried that illegal crossings could rise precipitously in the spring and summer, the months that have shown the biggest surges in recent years.
Nielsen said the troops could be deployed "immediately" but also acknowledged that governors would play a role in calling up their states' National Guard units.
Whether states would have veto rights to National Guard deployments was unclear throughout the day, with the administration repeatedly declining to provide definitive answers.
Nielsen said the administration would work in "partnership" with the border governors.
She didn't state a definitive number of Guard troops the administration plans to deploy or identify estimated costs and whether states or the federal government would pay.
"I don't want to get ahead of the governors," she told reporters Wednesday. "We are giving them the opportunity to review our suggestions of how the National Guard can support the Border Patrol."
According to a fact sheet released by the National Guard, the president has the power to "federalize" Guard forces by calling them into service "with the consent of the governor" of the states involved.
If a state is involved in "an insurrection" against the federal government, the president can also call up Guard troops from other states upon the request of the legislature or its governor.
Right now, it appears unlikely that Trump will declare California's vehement opposition to his policies on everything from immigration to fuel emissions and oil drilling off the coast an "insurrection," but administration officials have come close in recent weeks.
Attorney Jeff Sessions in early March came to California, lawsuit in hand, to deliver a speech against the state's sanctuary law and assert the federal government's legal authority.
"There is no nullification. There is no secession. Federal law is the supreme law of the land," he said.
One senior administration official said on Wednesday the administration is eager for an immigration fight with Democrats at all levels of government. The official placed the blame for the nation's immigration problems squarely on Democrats' shoulders and argued that ongoing clashes immigration clashes this year would rev up Republicans' conservative base to help GOP candidates in the Congressional midterms.
Meanwhile, Arizona's Gov. Doug Ducey and Texas's Gov. Greg Abbott, both Republicans, praised Trump's decision to use Guard troops in supportive roles and pledged to fully cooperate.
"Arizona welcomes the deployment of National Guard to the border," Ducey wrote on Twitter. "Washington has ignored this issue for too long and help is needed. For Arizona, it's all about public safety."
Abbott referred to a statement that the Texas National Guard has maintained a presence on the border since he was elected and assumed office in 2015.
"Texas will continue to implement robust border security efforts, and this partnership will help ensure we are doing everything we can to stem the flow of illegal immigration," he said.
A spokesman for Republican New Mexico governor Susana Martinez on Wednesday said she offers her full support to the New Mexico National Guard and said the U.S. wouldn't be in the current situation if Congress had passed an overhaul to the nation's immigration laws.
Martinez also derided Trump for his derogatory comments about Mexican immigrants during the campaign.
The California National Guard already has 250 personnel working on a counter-drug program across the state with 55 of those providing direct support to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel along the southwest border. However, Brown has rejected Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration, as well as a wide range of other stark policy differences impacting California.
The outgoing four-term governor also has a history of bucking previous presidents' push to use the state's National Guard to help border agents prevent illegal immigration in the past, according to the Sacramento Bee.
During the Obama administration, Texas deployed 1,000 of its Guard troops in 2014, but Brown's government decided that would not follow suit.
During Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's time in office, California worked with the George W. Bush White House to deploy the National Guard on the border in 2006 and 2010.
In 2006, that agreement came only after a long dispute and 17-day standoff over whether California Guardsmen would join the effort and who would pay for it. After negotiations, Schwarzenegger allowed about 1,000 Guardsmen to help border patrol agents with the federal government picking up the full cost.