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National Guard gearing up to support along southern border

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

EL PASO – The U.S. Border Patrol has begun working with National Guard advance teams to identify exactly how to use troops from New Mexico and Texas along this stretch of border.

“We’re going to schedule training with the Guard personnel that will be working with us, helping them operate our system, our surveillance, our cameras, radios, sensors,” said Aaron Hull, El Paso sector chief patrol agent, during a news conference Friday.

The El Paso Border Patrol sector, which includes all of New Mexico, will get 250 New Mexico National Guard troops.

Gov. Susana Martinez’s office said the first 80 soldiers would arrive this week. They will help with aerial support, surveillance on the ground, road and vehicle maintenance as well as other duties.

Hull said soldiers will be “vetted,” which includes background checks, and get additional training before joining Border Patrol agents in the field.

In 2016, the New Mexico National Guard helped the Border Patrol near Columbus along a 20-mile stretch of desert south of Deming. Sgt. David Strobe looks toward the border with infrared goggles. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

“The Guard will expand our capabilities at the border, which will increase our effectiveness and our law enforcement operations,” said Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner Ron Vitiello, at the news conference at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in El Paso.

Governors of all four states on the southwest border have agreed to send National Guard troops and will get federal funds to cover the cost.

Arizona Gov. Greg Ducey is expected to deploy 300 soldiers to the border this week. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in an interview with KTSA radio Monday said he wants to send 300 troops every week until there are 1,000 service members on the border in his state.

California Gov. Jerry Brown was the last to offer National Guard troops. He agreed to send 400 service members to the border to support operations targeting transnational criminal gangs, human traffickers, illegal firearms and drug smugglers.

“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,” Brown wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

While on the border, soldiers will not detain or arrest people. That will remain the sole duty of the Border Patrol.

“To be clear, border security will remain a civilian law enforcement capability and responsibility,” said Vitiello.

President Donald Trump has called for as many as 4,000 members of the National Guard on the border until a wall is built. Congress has not approved funding for the wall, and many lawmakers balk at spending as much as $25 billion to build the barrier.

Both Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush temporarily sent the National Guard to the border during their administrations.

“We don’t have an end date,” said Vitiello of the current deployment.