It started with a plea from the Republican governors of Texas and Arizona.
“We respectfully but urge you to send all available police resources to the border to defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” wrote Governor Greg Abbott of Texas and Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona on June 10 in a statement. letter to other governors.
Their Republican colleagues in several states, including Florida, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Arkansas and Idaho, answered the call, announcing that they were sending state troops or National Guard troops at the border.
It is unclear what these non-state forces will be empowered to do, and some states do not offer many details. Based on what we have gathered, they will be limited to investigative work and rescue patrols.
Abbott and Ducey say they were prompted to act because “the failure of the Biden administration to enforce federal immigration laws is causing damage that spreads to all states,” such as drug trafficking.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection say Southwest land border meetings for fiscal 2021, which includes the end of Trump’s tenure and Biden’s tenure so far, are up from recent years . (Dating data refers to events, not people, so a person making multiple attempts to cross the border would be counted more than once.)
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in March that the United States was “on track to meet more people on the southwest border than we have had in the past 20 years.”
Members of the National Guard have been deployed to the border in the past under the orders of Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, but it is much more unusual for a governor to ask for personnel from faraway states to help. at the border.
A CBP spokesperson said the federal agency would continue to build on its long-standing relationships with state and local law enforcement, but referred questions about the Texas decision to state officials. .
Duties include assisting with drug prohibition investigations, vehicle maintenance
Over the past few months, Abbott and Ducey have taken a series of measures in response to illegal immigration at the border. On May 31, Abbott declared a state of disaster and called on law enforcement to help prevent criminal activity. The state has deployed 1,000 state troops and 500 members of the National Guard, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
In June, Abbott announced it would use $ 250 million in public and private equity funds to continue building barriers along the border.
Arizona has also sent state soldiers and National Guard forces to its own border with Mexico.
Abbott and Ducey made their request to states through the Emergency Management Assistance Pact. The pact, which was ratified by Congress in 1996, is a partnership among all states to provide mutual aid in times of emergency, historically for disasters such as hurricanes or forest fires. The pact website did not list border enforcement as past use by states.
The responding States offer limited information on the tasks that their forces will handle.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger told us assignments would vary daily as needed, but officers and analysts are investigating human trafficking, drugs and trafficking. weapons. Each Florida agent is associated with a Texas agent.
Plessinger said Texas provided Florida officers with powers of arrest through the pact, but “we are not enforcing immigration laws.”
Members of the Arkansas National Guard will be under the operational control of the Texas National Guard and will assist with vehicle maintenance. Arkansas will cover staff and travel costs for about 20-30 people, while Texas will cover accommodation.
“These are all verbal agreements at this point, because we are at the beginning of the coordination and planning process,” said Shealyn Sowers, spokesperson for Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Idaho sent five state soldiers on a 21-day mission starting July 6 to assist Arizona state police with intelligence gathering and investigations related to the drug ban at the border. Soldiers will have the same authority given to Arizona State Soldiers.
The federal government has appealed to states for help in the past
There is precedent for states helping the federal government on border issues, but their authority is limited, said Michele Waslin, program coordinator at the Institute for Immigration Research at George Mason University.
“The State Police and the National Guard cannot enforce immigration laws; they can’t kick people out, but they can help the federal government, ”Waslin said.
Jessica Bolter, an immigration expert at the Migration Policy Institute, said in the past state soldiers conducted surveillance and were tasked with making arrests to enforce anti-trafficking / smuggling laws. But arrests have more often been made for more minor offenses, such as drunk driving and minor drug charges.
Mexico’s four border states – Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas – have cooperated with the federal government in the past and have dedicated additional funds and resources to border enforcement.
For example, in 2006, they all signed pacts with the federal government to allow National Guard personnel to help patrol the border area and to support federal efforts as part of Operation Jump Start.
In July 2014, then-government. Rick Perry ordered 1,000 Texas National Guard soldiers to go to the border in response to the influx of unaccompanied children. In 2010, the then governor of Arizona. Jan Brewer announced a border security plan that included National Guard reconnaissance, air patrols and military exercises.
But the federal government has most of the powers to enforce immigration laws and defines only a limited role for state and local police.
Federal law allows United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement to enter into agreements with state and local agencies and to train officers to perform civil immigration law enforcement functions. But state and local governments can participate only under federal control.
For criminal law enforcement, Congress has authorized state and local police to arrest violators of two criminal immigration provisions: one banning smuggling and smuggling, and another targeting illegally returning people. in the country after their deportation, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
However, the powers of the national and local police are limited.
“First, they cannot prevent individuals from learning only about their immigration status. There must be some other main reason for detaining someone for breaking a criminal law. And the length of detention cannot exceed what is necessary for criminal law enforcement purposes, ”wrote the Migration Policy Institute. “And second, state and local authorities can only detain a person they suspect has returned to the United States illegally until federal immigration officials arrive and detain that person.”
Historically, Texas Department of Public Safety staff have worked well with the border patrol, said Gil Kerlikowske, the United States Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection from 2014 to 2017.
“They carry out roadside checks and also coordinate aerial surveillance,” Kerlikowske said. The role of state public security personnel and the National Guard in general has been to observe and report or perform administrative office work. This frees up border patrol officers, who are trained in how to interact with migrants, he said.
But Texas’ latest call to far-state forces is something different, he said.
“It’s not just ‘political theater’, it’s actually dangerous for these officers,” Kerlikowske told PolitiFact. “The border environment and the culture of border communities is something these (out-of-state) officers are not familiar with. “
Andrew Arthur, a member of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports lower levels of immigration, disagreed with critics who dismiss the Abbott-Ducey effort as a photo opportunity for Republican governors.
He said officers in other states do not enforce federal border laws in Texas, but enforce Texas state laws at the border. This could include supporting Texas state soldiers or highway patrols who have left duty to help with law enforcement along the border, he said.
“They’re going to do a real police job,” Arthur said.
Who will cover the costs?
In most cases, state taxpayers will fund resources and personnel.
Seth W. Christensen, spokesperson for the Texas Emergency Management Division, told PolitiFact that “resources sent from other states are sent at their expense.”
The law which established the pact between states provides that requesting states reimburse other states. Katie Strickland, spokesperson for Governor Ron DeSantis, said Florida plans to seek reimbursement from Texas, but its responding agencies “have sufficient resources to absorb the costs.”
In Arkansas, a spokesperson for Hutchinson said the cost is around $ 575,000 for 30 members of the guard for a 90-day deployment. Idaho chose to cover its own costs, estimated at $ 53,391.
In South Dakota, the governor’s spokesperson did not detail the cost of the operation, citing “security reasons”. However, a wealthy Republican donor from Tennessee, Willis Johnson, offered $ 1 million to help cover the costs. Payment was made through the non-profit Willis and Reba Johnson Foundation and was received by the state Department of Public Safety.
The unusual private donation for a government function has raised legal and ethical questions, as state officials highlighted laws they say allow such donation.
Johnson, who regularly gives donations to Republican congressional candidates, made a fortune by founding Copart, a Dallas-based company that manages online auctions for used and damaged cars. He told PolitiFact that his nonprofit foundation provides money for Christian causes.