Republican governors across the country are deploying state law enforcement officials to the US-Mexico border, giving each governor the opportunity to emphasize their fealty to former President Donald Trump while simultaneously lambasting President Joe Biden’s administration.
The deployments, which have come from states ranging from South Dakota to Idaho to Florida, were in response to requests from two other Republican executives – Arizona’s Doug Ducey and Texas’ Greg Abbott – who asked the nation’s governors to send law enforcement to the U.S.-Mexico border in a letter sent earlier this month.
Their actions come amid a concerted effort by Republicans to pin a surge in illegal immigration on the Biden administration – namely Vice President Kamala Harris, who has been asked to lead the White House’s effort to curb migration from Central America. Trump, as part of this political effort, will visit South Texas and the border with Abbott on Wednesday, continuing his persistent attacks against his successor.
The Republican governors – many of whom have long been closely aligned with Trump – also are signaling their allegiance to the former President, who made illegal immigration and the construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border a cornerstone of his four years in the White House.
South Dakota’s Kristi Noem is one of the latest state executives to deploy state law enforcement to the border, announcing on Tuesday that she had sent the South Dakota National Guard to Texas to “help the secure the border between the United States and Mexico.”
Noem took a whack at the Biden administration as part of the rollout.
“The Biden Administration has failed,” she said, adding that the “border is a national security crisis that requires the kind of sustained response only the National Guard can provide.”
Noem funded the operation, according to her spokesman Ian Fury, through a private donation made by Willis and Reba Johnson’s Foundation. The Johnsons are longtime Republican donors who founded Copart, an online used car dealer.
Fury said the donation was made directly to the state and that Noem “welcomes any such donations to help alleviate the cost to South Dakota taxpayers.”
The South Dakota governor joined a number of other Republican executives to send law enforcement officials to the border, including a potential fellow 2024 presidential contender.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced last week that he would deploy state and local law enforcement officers to Texas and Arizona “in response to the border crisis.” DeSantis, who is seen as a possible 2024 contender, took a shot at Biden while doing it: “Where the federal government has failed, the states are stepping up into doing our best to fill the void.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson also on Tuesday authorized a 90-day deployment for up to 40 national guard troops in order to “reduce the adverse impact of illegal immigration on Arkansas.” Last week, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds authorized national guard troops head to the border earlier this month because, she said, the state “has no choice but to act.” And earlier this month, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced his state was “stepping up” and deploying state patrol troopers to the border, while Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced that the state would help but was “evaluating our resources” to determine what it could provide.
How effective these state law enforcement officials will be is an open question.
The enforcement of immigration law falls on federal authorities. While the federal government has partnered with states and localities in some cases, local law enforcement is generally limited in how it can assist with immigration enforcement.
“This is much more theatre than it is anything else,” former US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske told CNN. “I think immigration is the sole purview of the federal government. It isn’t like drug laws that are shared with the states. No state can impose its own immigration laws or rules.”
In Texas, the Department of Public Safety has been down at the border over the years to patrol the roads, make traffic stops and observe and report any activity, said Kerlikowske, who served under former President Barack Obama. National Guard troops have similarly provided support to Customs and Border Protection, often in a logistical capacity.
“On the ground, it had always been logistical coordination,” he said, adding that “there was good coordination and CBP worked well with deployments.” CBP employs more than 19,000 Border Patrol agents.
The distinction, concluded Kerlikowske, will be how well the deployed officers know the border – with National Guard troops more likely to have some familiarity – and how, if at all, they work in concert with Border Patrol agents.
“Sending 50 law enforcement officers from Florida with no understanding of the border is really just again political theatre,” Kerlikowske said.
A Customs and Border Protection spokesperson told CNN that the government agency “continues to leverage our longstanding relationships with state and local law enforcement, including deconflicting operations in the border region and responding to callouts from other law enforcement agencies,” but that it “defers to the State of Texas to speak to any steps they are taking to increase their enforcement posture.”