WASHINGTON — The Trump administration began outlining a plan Wednesday to deploy National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to fight illegal immigration, but will probably not allow the troops to have physical contact with immigrants, according to three administration officials.
The plans were laid out in a meeting with senior level Department of Homeland Security officials as well as in a meeting with the White House’s National Security Council on Wednesday, according to the three officials. The exact number of troops and how long they will be deployed to the border will be solidified in the coming days, the officials said.
DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters Wednesday that Trump would be signing a proclamation to deploy the National Guard to the border. She also called on Congress to tighten loopholes in the immigration system, which she said has made it impossible for the Trump administration to end the so-called “catch and release” practice whereby immigrants are released from detention while awaiting a trial.
The National Guard troops will not have physical contact with immigrants nor will they be responsible for processing them at the border, one of the officials said. Instead, they will be giving U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents more visibility by providing surveillance by air and through camera monitoring of the border.
Then-President George W. Bush issued a similar policy in 2006, called Operation Jump Start, though a White House official said it is not yet clear how closely the new deployment will mimic that plan.
President Barack Obama also deployed National Guard troops to the border in 2010 to help provide surveillance by air.
Under Operation Jump Start, National Guard troops played a support role to U.S. Customs and Border Protection already in the region, by aiding in intelligence gathering and the construction of a fence along the border. The National Guard was not involved in apprehending immigrants or using any kind of force against them, unless they were first attacked.
Apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border have begun to increase in 2018, up from 23,555 in February 2017 to 36,695 in February 2018, the latest month for which statistics are available.
Illegal immigration drastically slowed in the first months of the Trump administration, following sharp rhetoric he used to address the issue on the campaign trail. The increase in recent months has led the president to lash out on Twitter, claiming that caravans of immigrants crossing the border must be stopped and refusing to renew a DACA deal, which would protect immigrants previously brought to the United States as children.
Senior administration officials told reporters on Monday that the administration also plans to send legislation to Congress that will make it harder for immigrants to seek asylum and allow the government to detain those apprehended for longer than current federal court decisions allow.