Questions remain about National Guard deployment

McALLEN — A day after President Donald Trump announced he was sending the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border, questions remain about the expected deployment.

It was nearly four years ago that then-Gov. Rick Perry activated 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the Southern border to support the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Operation Strong Safety, a DPS-led plan to combat criminal elements along the U.S.-Mexico border using local and federal law enforcement agencies.

Perry’s move was in response to what he saw as a lack of action by the federal government with regard to securing the border, after experiencing an influx of unaccompanied minors and other undocumented immigrants from mostly Central and South American countries.

Prior to the deployment, state leaders approved funding for extra DPS troopers to fill in gaps in U.S. Border Patrol’s coverage in the Valley as the federal authorities were overwhelmed with an influx of children and families from Central America.

The state officials feared Mexican drug cartels might exploit the situation to move their own drugs and human contraband while Border Patrol attention was turned elsewhere.

A spokesman with the Texas National Guard said Wednesday that they are “awaiting additional guidance from the Department of Defense and president regarding the border.”

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, in addressing Trump’s announcement, didn’t mince words in a statement released Thursday morning.

“Sending the National Guard to the border right now is a horrendous idea,” Vela said in the statement. “The task of securing our nation’s border rests on the shoulders of more than 42,000 United States Border Patrol agents and United States Customs and Border Protection officers, and they are doing a fine job of it. If the Trump Administration is serious about providing sufficient support for these agents and officers, it should focus on its backlog in hiring the nearly 4,000 agents, which Congress funded almost three years ago.”

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera on the other hand said he wasn’t concerned about troops setting up in the Valley.

Vera said he spoke with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on Thursday morning and was assured the troops were going to be acting just like they had when they were first deployed in the Valley in the summer of 2014.

“We had some questions as to how they’re going to be working, what their function was and I was assured that they’re going to be doing pretty much what they did the last time they were down here, and that is to just to be extra eyes and arms and hands for Border Patrol and Homeland Security,” Vera said. “The last time they were down here, they were by the river. If they didn’t tell us they were down here, we’d probably never know because they were really not visible yet they were doing their job so if that is the case, I have no problem with the National Guard being in our community.”

Vera’s account is in line with published reports about the duties the troops would be tasked with, which is that of support for Border Patrol and CBP.

In response to the Wednesday’s news of U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials released a statement citing an already “decades-long” working relationship with National Guard troops.

“The National Guard will greatly help CBP by providing aerial detection, repairing border wall, and logistical support while CBP focuses on enforcing our immigration laws,” the statement read.

While troops are expected to act as the “eyes and ears” for Border Patrol agents and CBP officers, it is still unknown how many troops will be sent, and when they’re set to arrive.

Staff reporter Berenice Garcia contributed to this report.