Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday yielded to President Donald Trump’s request for troops to control the Mexican border, agreeing to supply 400 members of the California National Guard for “targeting transnational criminal gangs, human traffickers and illegal firearm and drug smugglers along the border, the coast and throughout the state.”
Brown sought to avoid the perception that he had capitulated: Washington pays the bill, Brown retains command of the troops and the Guard’s mission will not include stopping illegal border crossings.
“Let’s be crystal clear on the scope of this mission,” Brown wrote in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Defense Secretary James N. Mattis. “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.”
Paddle on the right and left. Brown’s agreement and cover letter were an attempt to appease Trump’s request for assistance without actually allowing his National Guard to be used for the mission Trump wants those troops: to guard the border and repel unauthorized immigrants until his wall is constructed. But while Brown carefully circumscribed his troops’ mission, the White House saw it for what it was — California submitting to Trump’s command.
As proof, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday told reporters the administration was “glad to see California Gov. Jerry Brown work with the administration and send members of the National Guard to help secure the southern border.”
And later, Trump himself tweeted: “California Governor Jerry Brown is doing the right thing and sending the National Guard to the Border. Thank you Jerry, good move for the safety of our Country!”
More than a year ago, people in Brown’s administration had thought through what California could do if Trump attempted to take command of the California National Guard to use as troops along the border. But instead of going that route, the White House requested support from border governors, who would retain command of their own guard troops. Apparently, to avoid outright rejection of Trump’s authority, Brown sought to finesse California’s response.
In his agreement, Brown made it clear that California would “accept federal funding to increase the number of personnel supporting ongoing operations of the California National Guard to combat drugs and transnational crime, currently staffed by 250 personnel statewide, including 55 near California’s southern border.”
But, Brown said in his letter insisting that his troops would not be used as border guards, “Here are the facts: there is no massive wave of immigrants pouring into California. Overall immigration 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).”
What is to be done Under the memorandum of agreement between the state and the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security, the cost of military personnel will be reimbursed “in order to perform missions statewide in support of border security.”
California agrees to provide approximately 400 National Guard members along the border, the coast and elsewhere to support missions that include:
— operations targeting transnational criminal gangs, human traffickers, and illegal firearm and drug smugglers;
— counterdrug operations and counter-narcoterrorism operations
— interdiction of illegal firearm shipments
— operations interdicting human trafficking and
— coastal and offshore interdiction of illegal drugs and firearms.
But, says the agreement – which remains in effect until September 30, 2018, unless renewed:
— California National Guard service members shall not enforce immigration laws, arrest people for violation of immigration laws, guard individuals taken into custody for immigration-related violations, nor support the enforcement of immigration laws
— No service members shall be employed in a direct law enforcement role or participate in the construction of any border barrier.
The governor retains authority to decline missions for any reason including missions that would compromise state readiness to respond to emergencies or missions “that do not meet a valid state and/or national security interest.”
In his letter, Brown cast the assignment of Guard troops as a continuation of the fight against crime that California supported in 2006 under President Bush and in 2019 under President Obama.
But given the virulent context brought about by President Trump’s avowed campaign against immigration, Democratic leaders throughout California – including the Democratic candidates for governor – had urged Brown to reject Trump’s request for troops.
As of late Wednesday, Brown’s sleight of hand had satisfied Kevin de Leon, the Democratic state Senate leader challenging U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (who Brown just endorsed for re-election), but other top Democrats had not weighed in.