First troops headed to border

McALLEN — On the eve of a march to commemorate civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, the first National Guard troops were set to arrive in the Rio Grande Valley.

The move isn’t anything new to Valley residents as troops were most recently deployed here nearly four years ago, when then-Gov. Rick Perry sent 1,000 guardsmen to the border amid an influx of unaccompanied minors and families from Central and South American countries.

Perry, citing at the time the federal government’s inability to protect the southern border, deployed troops to be the “eyes and ears” for Texas Department of Public Safety troopers who were sent to the Valley to execute Operation Strong Safety.

At a Friday evening news conference, Texas National Guard officials in Austin announced that troops would arrive in the Valley later that day, with the remaining groups totaling 250 guards to arrive within 72 hours.

In an email sent to lawmakers’ offices Friday evening, Marcy Weldin, deputy director of government affairs for the Texas Military Department, laid out more details about the deployment of Texas National Guardsmen to the U.S.-Southern border, as well as giving the troop placement a name — “Operation Secure Texas.”

“These deployment activities are being coordinated along with other SW border states,” the email states. “This mobilization supports the priorities of the governor and the president in securing our borders. Under this authorization and the authority of Governor Abbott, this deployment will begin with the movement of equipment and troops starting today.”

Weldin in the email confirms that 250 troops will be deployed within 72 hours, along with “ground surveillance vehicles and light and medium aviation platforms,” and stating the troop’s main role will be to “observe and report,” the same role they played four years ago.

During the “initial phase,” the guardsmen will be tasked with — among other things — “command and control, coordination cells and operational planning as requested in support of the federal entities already on the border,” the email goes on to state.

On Thursday, Starr County Judge Eloy Vera said he spoke with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who assured him that the troops would serve the same purpose they did in 2014.

Vera said they would be the “extra eyes and arms and hands for Border Patrol and Homeland Security,” and that he welcomed the troops in his community.

La Unión del Pueblo Entero spokesman John-Michael Torres, who heard the news about the troops Wednesday, said the presence of the National Guard has people in vulnerable communities afraid of how the Trump administration wants to utilize them.

“Each time the National Guard has been sent down, it’s an insult, both to border communities and our culture,” Torres said, fearing troops would be used to enforce laws not within their responsibilities.

The president’s proclamation Wednesday directing the use of National Guard troops refers to Title 32, a federal law under which Guard members receive federal pay and benefits, but remain under the command and control of their state’s governor.

Defense Secretary James Mattis Friday night approved paying for up to 4,000 National Guard personnel from the Pentagon budget through the end of September. A Defense Department memo says the National Guard personnel will not perform law enforcement functions or “interact with migrants or other persons detained” without Mattis’s approval. It said “arming will be limited to circumstances that might require self-defense,” but it did not further define that.

Deployments to the border under former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both occurred under Title 32. Bush sent around 6,000 troops in 2006, and Obama sent 1,200 Guard members in 2010.

Trump’s proclamation blamed “the lawlessness that continues at our southern border.” Trump has suggested he wants to use the military on the border until progress is made on his proposed border wall, which has mostly stalled in Congress.

News reports of a caravan of Central American migrants passing through southern Mexico also sparked angry tweets from the president. The caravan of largely Central American migrants never intended to reach the U.S. border, according to organizer Irineo Mujica.

But Trump has repeatedly cited it as an example of what he called America’s weak immigration laws.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.