By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The state of California has opted not to take part in the Trump administration’s effort to send National Guard troops to the country’s southern border with Mexico, a Defense Department official said on Monday.
Robert Salesses, a deputy assistant secretary at the Defense Department, said at a media briefing that California has declined a request to commit more than 200 troops to the effort. Salesses said talks with California are ongoing.
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis authorized up to 4,000 National Guard personnel to help the Department of Homeland Security secure the border in four southwestern U.S. states.
Currently, 900 National Guard troops have been deployed in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, officials said Monday.
Lieutenant Colonel Tom Keegan, a spokesman for the California National Guard, said in a statement that “state officials have not rejected anything” since California Governor Jerry Brown responded last week with a proposed agreement.
Keegan added: “The federal government has not yet responded. The next step is for the federal government to respond by signing the Memorandum of Agreement.” Brown’s office referred questions to Keegan.
Tyler Houlton, a spokesman for Homeland Security, said Brown “shares our interest in securing our southern border. DHS and our federal partners are committed to working with the governor to mobilize the California National Guard to assist DHS’s frontline personnel in our vital missions.”
Salesses said the federal government had asked California to provide 237 National Guard troops to two sectors near the Mexican border. “They will not perform those missions,” Salesses said, adding talks are continuing with the California National Guard.
He said the tasks sought were primarily operational support, including motor transport maintenance, radio communications, heavy equipment operations, administrative responsibilities and operating remote surveillance cameras.
Ronald Vitiello, acting deputy commissioner at U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, said Monday California may be willing to take part in other missions but Brown had determined that some tasks sought for assistance were “unsupportable.”
Trump has been unable to get the U.S. Congress or Mexico to fund his proposed wall along the border. National Guard troops will not construct any sections of a proposed border wall, officials said Monday.
National Guard troops are not taking part in direct border security and are not performing law enforcement work.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has sharply rebuked Trump over the plan.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Leslie Adler and James Dalgleish)