SANTA TERESA – The New Mexico National Guard troops deployed to work with Border Patrol agents are all volunteers and none is a police officer.
Those were among the details about the troops Gov. Susana Martinez released Thursday while visiting the border for a first-hand look at the New Mexico Guards members now posted in the southern part of the state.
“The protection of our border is everything to make sure Americans are safe,” Martinez said at a news conference after touring the Santa Teresa Border Patrol Station.
Sixty-one National Guard members are serving in a support role on the border, helping with maintenance for trucks and all-terrain vehicles and taking care of horses used by Border Patrol agents in mounted patrols in rugged desert terrain. Other soldiers will help with surveillance by monitoring cameras set up along the border.
“We do not want the illegal trafficking of drugs and sex trafficking that takes place and comes through the border and then impacts the cities in the northern part of New Mexico,” Martinez said.
The governor will deploy “up to 150” troops – down from the 250 members of New Mexico’s National she originally announced she would send to the southwestern border at President Trump’s request.
“Of course, it’s a fluid number. It depends how things go,” the Republican governor said. Martinez said she is in “constant communication” with the White House to see if the number of National Guard troops is adequate or needs to be increased.
President Trump wants 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.
Martinez said all of the troops deployed by New Mexico’s governor volunteered for border duty. But she said she will not include any who are police officers.
“A decision was made the minute we accepted an agreement that we were not going to send national guard men and women down here, that we were not going to tap into any of the law enforcement officers,” Martinez said.
So far, 61 troops have gone through the required background checks and additional training and have begun to work with U.S. Border Patrol.
“We’re here in a support role. They’re the lead and that’s how we’re going to approach it,” said Brig. Gen. Tom Bump of the New Mexico’s National Guard during the news conference.
While on the border, soldiers will not detain or arrest people. That will remain the sole duty of the Border Patrol.
But Gen. Bump said the additional support from New Mexico National Guard troops will help secure the border.
“I think anytime you can free up an agent to get him out on the line is probably beneficial to them accomplishing their mission,” Gen. Bump said.
Both Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush temporarily sent troops to the border. Gov. Martinez said there is “no end date” for the current deployment.