Members of the Arkansas Army National Guard will be the latest military personnel sent to the U.S./Mexico border as part of President Donald Trump’s push to curb illegal immigration.
Around ten National Guard soldiers and two UH-72 Lakota helicopters will be heading to an unspecified area on the border likely within the next two days, according to Arkansas National Guard Spokesman Maj. Will Phillips.
“A few weeks ago, Gov. [Asa] Hutchinson offered the services of Arkansas National Guard, in case the lead federal agencies that are conducting border patrol missions needed some assistance,” Phillips said. “We were contacted by the border patrol, and they were looking to use some of our reconnaissance and surveillance equipment to support the border patrol in their operations on the southwest border.”
Of the soldiers heading to the border, Maj. Phillips said four are pilots, with the rest serving in support and maintenance roles. Phillips said he anticipates a time frame of 30 to 45 days for the mission, though much of that decision depends on federal funding.
The Department of Defense has authorized up to 4,000 National Guard troops to assist U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers along the border, though illegal border crossings into the United States had been at historic lows in 2017.
National Guard troops will be serving in a similar capacity, according to Maj. Phillips, as in a 2006 deployment known as Operation Jump Start. That mission authorized 750 Arkansas National Guard troops to support federal border patrol agencies.
“On that particular mission, we helped build border fences, we provided maintenance support, we provided administrative support,” Phillips said. “For both missions, our soldiers and anyone else who goes down from the Arkansas National Guard will not be performing law enforcement duties. Our job is to free the hands of the border patrol agencies so that they can take care of adjudicative sort of deals.”
National Guard troops sent to the border will report to the governor of the state where they are stationed, and will receive funding from the federal government. Maj. Phillips says his fellow soldiers are prepared to deal with potential restrictions on military activities, as have been imposed in California.
"We'll make that determination once we've gotten the location that our soldiers will be going into. But, either way it goes, Arkansas soldiers are always ready, always there," Phillips said. "We're able to adeptly move around any sort of restrictions that the governor of the supporting state will have put in place."