California limits National Guard’s border mission, risking clash with Trump

 washingtonpost.com  4/17/2018 12:33:45 PM 

The Trump administration intends to send up to 4,000 National Guard troops to the Mexico border. (Loren Elliott/Reuters)

The state of California has rejected the terms of the Trump administration’s initial request to deploy National Guard troops along the border with Mexico, U.S. military officials and the head of the Border Patrol said Monday, the latest sign of persistent tension with the White House over immigration enforcement.

The troops in California are under the command of Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who last week said he would send up to 400 personnel in a limited role.

Just how limited became clearer Monday after California’s National Guard told Homeland Security officials the state will not allow soldiers to do the types of things they’re doing elsewhere on the border: monitoring surveillance cameras, performing maintenance and transporting U.S. border agents.

“The California National Guard has indicated they will not perform those missions,” Defense Department official Robert G. Salesses told reporters at a briefing Monday. He said Homeland Security officials are “in continuing dialogue and discussion” with state officials and did not rule out an agreement on an even more circumscribed role for the troops.

Trump has frequently clashed with Brown over the state’s “sanctuary” policies limiting the participation of state and local police in federal immigration enforcement. Brown sent a letter last week offering to send troops to the border — on the condition they don’t participate in immigration enforcement — and the next day Trump praised him in an exuberant tweet.

“Thank you Jerry, good move for the safety of our Country!” the president wrote.

But on Tuesday, Trump was again bashing the governor.

“Looks like Jerry Brown and California are not looking for safety and security along their very porous Border,” Trump tweeted. “He cannot come to terms for the National Guard to patrol and protect the Border. The high crime rate will only get higher. Much wanted Wall in San Diego already started!”

Brown has been the only holdout among border state governors, as Texas, New Mexico and Arizona — all led by Republicans — moved quickly to send personnel. About 900 Guard troops have deployed so far, a National Guard commander said Monday: 650 in Texas, 250 in Arizona and 60 in New Mexico.

The Trump administration says it will send as many as 4,000 to cope with a jump in illegal crossings, after arrests along the Mexico border hit their highest level in 15 months.

Salesses, the Pentagon official, said the Border Patrol had asked California to send 237 troops to the agency’s San Diego and El Centro sectors, but state officials panned the request.

A California National Guard commander, Lt. Col. Tom Keegan, disputed that characterization, and said in a statement Monday that “state officials have not rejected anything.”

Keegan said Homeland Security officials and the Department of Defense have not replied to California’s offer for a memorandum outlining the mission’s scope. “The federal government has not yet responded,” Keegan said in a statement sent to reporters.

Ronald Vitiello, the Border Patrol’s acting deputy commissioner, said talks with California were ongoing and it was possible the state would lend troops for other support roles, including maritime and aerial surveillance, which include counternarcotics work. But he said U.S. agents would not get the military’s help at the border — at least for now.

“We’re refining our requirements,” Vitiello said. “It will be an iterative process.”

Lawmakers declined to provide Trump the $25 billion his administration is seeking to build hundreds of miles of barriers at the border, and the president this month said the National Guard deployment could be needed until a wall — his signature campaign promise — was in place.

Pentagon officials said Monday that they are still calculating what the troop deployment will cost.

Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.

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