Lawmakers press for answers on border deployments

Lawmakers press for answers on border deployments

Lawmakers pressed Trump administration officials on Tuesday for details on the deployment of National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Officials from the National Guard and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) testified before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security and touted the "tremendous value" of the deployment, which they said was helping to cut border crossings and drug trafficking. 

“We perform a variety of roles, including motor vehicle operations, logistics support, security monitoring, administrative services, which enables the Border Patrol agents to get back on the border, where they’re most effective,” said Major General John Nichols, adjutant general of the Texas National Guard. 

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Rep. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallySinema, Fitzpatrick call for long-term extension of Violence Against Women Act The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — GOP again has momentum on Kavanaugh rollercoaster Arizona race becomes Senate GOP’s ‘firewall’ MORE (R-Ariz.), the subcommittee chairwoman, questioned whether the administration needed a better long-term plan.

“We cannot continue to surge our citizen soldiers and their resources for a brief period of time, then recall them shortly after and expect that whatever gains are made won’t deteriorate once these assets return home,” McSally said. “We need to have a post-surge plan to sustain operations."

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGrassley: Dems 'withheld information' on new Kavanaugh allegation Health advocates decry funding transfer over migrant children Groups plan mass walkout in support of Kavanaugh accuser MORE ordered the deployment of up to 4,000 National Guard officers in April in response to a spike in border crossings. The order gave states a broad mandate on what tasks guardsmen could do.

Some worried that the National Guard would be used to help apprehend migrants. But reports in June suggested they were instead doing support work away from the border, such as fixing flat tires in military vehicles and shoveling manure at horse stables.

Rodolfo Karisch, chief patrol agent of the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, confirmed at the hearing that agents had “no direct contact with migrants” and were engaged in mostly logistics and surveillance.

He credited the National Guard with helping seize 11,000 pounds of drugs.

But the witnesses also appeared to struggle to articulate a long-term strategy for the deployment.

The officials were unable to answer when Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondState Department: Allegations of racism 'disgusting and false' Congressional Black Caucus says Kavanaugh would weaken Voting Rights Act protections Democrats move to limit role of superdelegates in presidential nominations MORE (D-La.) asked them to define what “mission accomplished” would look like.

Funding for the deployment is set to run out at the end of the fiscal year in September.

The officials asked for more support from Congress to hire Border Patrol agents. This year, Congress approved an added $1.8 billion to CBP’s budget as Trump also ordered the hiring of 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents.

Democrats also pressed officials on the administration's zero-tolerance policy which has resulted in children being separated from their families when caught crossing the border.

“The zero tolerance is what’s really causing folks a lot of angst,” Rep. Lou CorreaJose (Lou) Luis CorreaLawmakers press for answers on border deployments House lawmakers push for medical marijuana research reform Hispanic Dems propose 'Children's Day' holiday MORE (D-Calif.) said. “It’s just driving people crazy, so to speak — really emotional.”

Karisch told lawmakers the National Guard had no hand in the separations or the reunification of families now taking place.

Several governors had pulled back their National Guard troops in response to family separations at the border.