California governor agrees to deploy 400 Guard troops, but rules out using them for immigration enforcement

Key Points
  • California Gov. Jerry Brown agreed to deploy 400 National Guard members statewide, including some to the southern border.
  • President Donald Trump has requested up to 4,000 Guard troops from several states to protect against unlawful border crossing and drug trafficking.
  • But the California governor said the Guard personnel won't be for immigration enforcement.
  • Trump also indicated he wanted Guard troops to help build a new border wall, but Brown said the personnel he's deploying won't be for that mission.
A U.S. Border Patrol agent scans the U.S.-Mexico border while on a bridge over the Rio Grande on March 13, 2017 in Roma, Texas.
Getty Images

California Gov. Jerry Brown agreed Wednesday to mobilize up to 400 National Guard personnel at the request of the Trump administration but in doing so rejected any use of them for immigration enforcement or to help build a new border wall.

"Your funding for new staffing will allow the Guard to do what it does best: support operations targeting transnational criminal gangs, human traffickers and illegal firearms and drug smugglers along the border, the coast and throughout the state," Brown wrote Wednesday in a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

Specifically, Brown said the state "will accept federal funding to add approximately 400 Guard members statewide to supplement the staffing of its ongoing program to combat transnational crime." He said the statewide program currently has some 250 Guard personnel, including 55 troops at the California border.

In authorizing the state Guard, though, Brown stated: "This will not be a mission to build a new wall. It will not be a mission to round up women and children or detain people escaping violence and seeking a better life. And the California National Guard will not be enforcing federal immigration laws."

Last week, Mattis requested up to 4,000 Guard troops from several states. Arizona, New Mexico and Texas already responded and have begun to send several hundred personnel to the southern border. That followed President Donald Trump signing a proclamation ordering the deployment of National Guard troops to defend the U.S.-Mexico border against unlawful immigration and drug trafficking. Trump also has expressed a desire to use the troops to help build a new border wall.

The presidential document Trump signed said the Guard action was needed because the "situation at the border has now reached a point of crisis."

The California governor took issue with the administration's claim that there's a border crisis.

"Here are the facts: there is no massive wave of migrants pouring into California," Brown said in the letter to the secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security. "Overall immigrant apprehensions on the border last year were as low as they've been in nearly 50 years (and 85 percent of the apprehensions occurred outside of California)."

Playing out in the background, too, is California's controversial "sanctuary state" law, which is being challenged in the courts by the Trump administration. The state law bars local and state authorities from asking about the immigration status of people during routine interactions or participating in federal enforcement actions.

The Guard was deployed in 2006 under President George W. Bush and again in 2010 by President Barack Obama. As in those cases, Trump ordered the deployment under a federal law known as Title 32, which means the Guard personnel will be operating under the command and control of their state's governor.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that "illegal" crossing attempts from the Southwest border tripled in March compared with a year ago.

So far this year, the most apprehensions have been recorded in the Rio Grande sector in Texas, followed by the Tucson and Yuma sectors in Arizona, according to the government. The Rio Grande sector accounted for about 60 percent of the apprehensions on the southern border last year.

The U.S.-Mexico border spans almost 2,000 miles, with the Texas share representing 1,241 miles, Arizona nearly 373 miles, New Mexico about 180 miles and California 140 miles.