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Ducey to send 250 Arizona National Guard troops to border

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Ducey to send 250 Arizona National Guard troops to border

Troops will install and maintain cameras, help with medical care at detention centers, governor says

  • A Border Patrol agent responds to possible illegal activity while a National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk provides overwatch, near Sasabe, Arizona.
    CBPA Border Patrol agent responds to possible illegal activity while a National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk provides overwatch, near Sasabe, Arizona.

After weeks of calling for National Guard units along Arizona's border with Mexico, Gov. Doug Ducey announced Tuesday that he's deploying around 250 guardsmen in support roles, relegating them to installing and maintaining cameras, and helping with medical care at detention centers. 

Ducey's announcement took federal immigration authorities in Arizona by surprise, as the governor did not coordinate the activation of the Guard with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

While many Southern Arizona Democrats called the move political grandstanding, Republican county sheriffs praised it, and the state's two Democratic U.S. senators welcomed the deployment. Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said Ducey is "wasting tax dollars," and U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva called the move a "disgrace."

Ducey said the state would provide about $25 million in initial funding for the mission, and the troops would help support other law enforcement agencies, including the Arizona Department of Public Safety. 

Ducey, a Republican, said the deployments were necessary because the nation is experiencing a "rapid increase" in apprehensions, including the number of migrant children in federal custody. 

"The situation in our border communities is just as bad—if not worse—than the coverage we've been seeing," Ducey said. "It's become evidently clear that Arizona needs the National Guard, and the White House is aware of that. Yet, to this day, there has been no action from this administration, and it doesn’t look like they are going to act any time soon. If this administration isn't going to do anything, then we will."

In fact, the federal government has surged resources to the border, including seeking volunteers throughout the Department Homeland Security, and established a dozen shelters for unaccompanied minors since March.

Influx of migrant children at the border

Since April 2020, the number of unaccompanied children has steadily increased, rising from just 63 children that month to 18,883 in March 2021. Advocates for children have linked the influx to the institution of the Migrant Protection Protocols and Title 42—two Trump-era policies that have largely kept migrant families and children from seeking asylum in the U.S. 

At the same time, the number of families encountered by CBP has also increased from just 108 in April 2020 to nearly 37,000 by March 2021.

In the Tucson Sector, which covers Arizona from the Yuma County line to the Arizona-New Mexico border, agents encountered people just over 80,000 times from October to March. Of those, about 85 percent were single adults, according to statistics from the agency. About 9 percent of those encountered were unaccompanied minors, and about 6 percent are people traveling as families.

In fact, in the Tucson Sector the number of families was down significantly from 2019.

Meanwhile, the number of overall encounters has dramatically spiked, rising from 17,106 encounters with agents in April 2020 to 78,444 through January. Since January, that number has spiked with total encounters rising to 101,028 in February and 172,331 in March.  

Troy Miller, the acting commissioner for CBP, said that in February while more than 100,000 people were apprehended, this represented about 75,000 "unique individuals." And, the recidivism rate is at its highest rate in years at 20 percent. 

In response to COVID-19 and the needs of families as required by a range of federal rules created by as a consequence of lawsuits filed against ICE and Border Patrol—including a federal case over the treatment of migrants in Tucson Sector holding areas—both agencies have begun releasing families to non-profit groups in Tucson and Phoenix, as well as to the towns of Ajo, Gila Bend and Yuma. 

Last week, a contractor for CBP began building "tent-like" structures to hold about 75 families in the Tucson-area, and the city of Tucson has begun hosting migrant families at hotels. 

Ducey said that under the leadership of newly appointed Adjutant General and Director of the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs Brigadier General Kerry L. Muehlenbeck, around 250 guardsmen will "go to border communities and will be available to support other law enforcement agencies, like state troopers." 

Under his guidelines, the troops will: assist with medical operations in detention centers; install and maintaining border cameras; monitor and collect data from public safety cameras; and analyze satellite imagery for current trends in smuggling corridors.

Ducey did not indicate if there will be any coordination between the Guard operating under state authority and any federal border agencies.

"The dedicated members of the Arizona National Guard stand ready to support our local law enforcement partners as they address border security, just like we have done for many years when called upon," Muehlenbeck said. "Our guard members will tackle a wide range of tasks including medical operations, camera maintenance and monitoring, data analysis, and logistics and administrative support to local sheriffs. I am proud of the men and women of the Arizona National Guard for their commitment to serving and protecting our state, all while they balance federal requirements and full-time civilian commitments. I am grateful for all they do to keep Arizonans safe and for the many employers who continue to support them."

Grijalva: Move is 'purely political'

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona criticized the governor's announcement, while Rep. Raúl Grijalva called it a "disgrace" and "purely political."

"It’s a disgrace that Gov. Ducey continues to militarize our borderlands," Grijalva said. "We must stop meeting asylum-seeking children and families with guns and troops and instead, direct all resources needed at the border to localities and nongovernmental organizations to adequately assist asylum seekers." 

"This troop deployment is purely political and does nothing to address the issues at hand. It will not solve the backlogs, will not improve the care of unaccompanied minors, and will not help border communities," the Democratic congressman said. "Gov. Ducey should work with the Biden administration to better manage the border instead of resorting to useless political posturing that only further militarizes border communities."

"If Gov. Ducey was truly committed to helping, he would be supporting the efforts of local governments and NGOs to provide humanitarian care," Mayor Romero said. "Unfortunately, the governor is more concerned with raising his national political profile than actually working to solve this issue."

"Deploying troops will do nothing to help alleviate the current situation," the Democratic mayor said. "Instead, the governor's actions only add to the sense of militarization in our borderlands and stoke unjustified fears about asylum-seekers, who are in search of a better life for them and their families."

Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos said he was "surprised" about the deployment and that he hadn't heard from anyone in the governor's office since November's election.

"We need to quit politicizing the border," he said.

Nanos said that as the county sheriff, he works closely with CBP and that the agency's primary problem are families, "moms and dads and kids" coming across the border. "They're working well with non-profits to check families, get them checked out, evaluated, and released to groups like Casa Alitas, who can help these families."

"I can't believe that they still want to politicize the border," he said, adding that rather than spend millions on deploying troops to the border, the governor should work with Arizona's senators to "create some real reform" and solve the major issues along the border. "Yeah, there is a crisis, there's a humanitarian crisis that needs to be solved in a humanitarian way."

Nanos said that rather than National Guard troops, he would like to get body cameras and other tools. "If the governor really wants to help, send us some body cameras, that's what we need here."

"Today's announcement is the latest in Gov. Ducey's political ploy to depict a border 'crisis' when there is none," said Yvette Borja, the border litigation attorney for the ACLU of Arizona. "Let's be clear:  The governor's actions do nothing more than further militarize our border communities and stoke unnecessary and unjustified fear."

"Under the Trump administration's cruel policies, our nation's asylum system was decimated creating a humanitarian crisis and endangering lives while violating people's right to seek safety in the U.S. If Gov. Ducey really cared about the situation at the border, he would join the calls to restore asylum and to end deportations under Title 42."

Arizona's two U.S. senators, both Democrats, sounded a different note than other members of their party.

"I welcome the governor's action to provide logistical support to Arizona communities, and look forward to hearing more details about how the National Guard will assist," Sen. Kyrsten Sinema said. "I will continue working closely with Arizona leaders and organizations to support our border communities, secure the border, prevent the spread of COVID-19, and treat all migrants and unaccompanied children fairly and humanely."

Sen. Mark Kelly said that "There is a crisis on the border and I have pushed the administration for the additional resources, staffing, transportation, and the testing necessary to provide a secure, orderly process that does not fall on Arizona communities."

"In visiting the Yuma Sector and speaking with Border Patrol and other local leaders, it's clear that their resources and staffing are strained. There are important missions that the Arizona National Guard can perform at the border and the governor calling them up will provide assistance to both local law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security," Kelly said.

Kelly did not indicate how the state Guard would work with the federal DHS.

Ducey: Biden admin is AWOL on border

For weeks, Ducey has honed his arguments against the Biden administration, launching into an attack of the new administration for being "AWOL" on the border, and authoring an opinion piece in the Washington Post with Texas Governor Greg Abbott. 

And, last week, Ducey used an incident involving Arizona DPS troopers to call for the National Guard. "If the federal government isn’t going to do its job, then Arizona will take matters into our own hands and provide support to sheriffs and local law enforcement," he said. 

On Tuesday, Ducey he will be traveling to Yuma to tour the border to "see first hand the security and humanitarian crisis unfolding there and call out the Biden administration for their failed leadership on this issue." 

"Arizona's southern border is broken," Ducey claimed during a press conference in March. "This is Joe Biden's border crisis." 

"This is something that needs attention immediately, yet the Biden administration has been anti-wall, and they have been AWOL—absent without leave—on this issue," Ducey said. "Who couldn't see this crisis coming when the policies of the previous administration were reversed willy-nilly, and the signals that have been sent into Central America has got the cartels taking advantage of these people and these families and incentive and to make this dangerous journey." 

Ducey did not make it clear which policies have contributed to the "signals" sent to Central America, and the Biden administration has maintained some of the policies of the Trump administration, while pausing others, and rescinding just a few. 

While Title 42 was put into place by the Trump administration, Biden's White House has kept the order in place, allowing U.S. Border Patrol to expel people nearly 237,000 people in 2021 alone. However, Mexican authorities have—state-by-state—refused to accept the return of certain migrants who crossed from Mexico into the U.S. further complicating efforts along the border. While Mexican officials will accept Mexican citizens, as well as people from the "Northern Triangle" countries, which includes El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, they are refusing to accept people from other countries, including Cuba, Venezuela, and Brazil.

In March alone, when apprehensions had the highest monthly total in decades, the agency expelled people 102,000 times. 

However, Ducey did not lay out how the state would expand efforts to aid county sheriffs and local police. Many local agencies have indicated that they will not involve themselves in enforcing federal immigration regulations, but Ducey's new effort appears to be using National Guard troops to buttress camera systems built along the border in Cochise County. 

Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels praised the governor, and said that the federal government's actions have "made the border less secure." 

"This threatens the safety of our communities and law enforcement," he said. "Border towns and officers need support as the crisis at the border escalates. I’m grateful to Gov. Ducey for taking action and sending the National Guard to help. We welcome immigrants with open arms — but it needs to be done legally and orderly to ensure we are protecting our communities, state, and nation." 

"The crisis at the border is serious and cannot be taken lightly," said Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot. "The Arizona National Guard will provide much-needed support to our officers and safety officials, and will help ensure Yuma and other border communities are further protected from dangerous and illegal activity." 

By deploying National Guard assets, the governor will allow me to deploy more first responders to mission critical tasks where we will work side by side with our federal partners to target, apprehend and prosecute transnational criminal organizations. My thanks to the governor for taking action to protect Arizonans, law enforcement and legal immigration," Wilmot said. 

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone, a Democrat, also weighed in, writing that "issues at the border affect the whole state, to include Maricopa County."  

"The availability of Arizona National Guard resources in support of law enforcement demands is an asset for our depleted resources. I appreciate Gov. Ducey’s commitment to law enforcement organization," he said. 

In April 2018, Ducey held a press conference at the U.S. Border Patrol station in Nogales to announce the deployment of roughly 338 guardsmen to the border as part of the Trump administration's move to harden border enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Through 2018 National Guard troops were deployed along the border under Operation Guardian Support. However, National Guard troops could not detain people crossing the border, but were instead relegated to support roles, including managing the feeding and care of Border Patrol's horses, fixing and maintaining the agency's vehicles, and watching remote surveillance cameras. Some Air National Guard units flew helicopters over the southwestern desert, providing surveillance, and when needed, search and rescue operations, including plucking hurt migrants from remote mountain-tops. 

In late 2018, the Trump administration went further, and launched Operation Secure Line, a 7,000-strong deployment of National Guard troops—which included not just troops, but border defenses, intelligence analysts, and heavy aircraft adding "robust military capabilities" in Arizona's border towns. Along with the troops, engineers added concertina or "razor wire" along the U.S.-Mexico border, welding the dangerously sharp wire to the border wall in places like downtown Nogales, Arizona. 

Border Patrol officials defended the National Guard's role by stating that by aiding the agency in support roles, more agents could be out in the field to secure the border. 

During the 2018 deployments, U.S. military and CBP officials were careful to note that National Guard troops would not deal directly with migrants, and would not be put in charge of security or detention efforts. 

Ducey's concerns about apprehensions comes as U.S. Health and Human Services, the federal agency which manages unaccompanied minors, has massively expanded the number of shelters for children across the U.S.

According to statistics from HHS  the agency has nearly 20,500 children in its care, and about 2,500 children are in CBP custody. 

"While increases in arrivals began in mid-2020, this Administration’s goal is to move unaccompanied minors who arrive at our borders out of DHS custody and into HHS facilities, and ultimately place them with vetted family members or sponsors as quickly and safely as possible," the agency said. "HHS holds the child for testing and quarantine, and shelters the child until the child is placed with a sponsor here in the United States," the agency said. "In more than 80 percent of cases, the child has a family member in the United States. In more than 40 percent of cases, that family member is a parent or legal guardian.  These children are reunited with their families who will care for them. The children then go through immigration proceedings where they are able to present an application for asylum or other protection under the law." 

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