National Guard troops head to U.S.-Mexico border

April 7 (UPI) — U.S. troops began deployment to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to President Donald Trump’s call for troops to control illegal immigration.

Defense Secretary James Mattis signed an order authorizing as many as 4,000 National Guard troops to deploy through Sept. 30 to assist the Department of Homeland Security, according to a release late Friday from Pentagon. It follows a decision Thursday by President Donald Trump to send “anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000” National Guard members to assist Border Patrol agents with guarding the border and halting what he described a “surge of illegal activity.”

“Tonight National Guard troops are deploying to support border security missions along the U.S. southwest border,” Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a joint statement late Friday. “Working closely with the border governors, the Department of Homeland Security identified security vulnerabilities that could be addressed by the National Guard. We appreciate the governors’ support and are dedicated to working with them to secure the national borders.”

The order did not say where the troops will be positioned along the 1,954-mile border or which National Guard units would be used. On Friday, Arizona and Texas officials announced they would mobilize reservists for the mission and Nevada volunteered to send National Guard troops to assist.

The exact number of troops to be immediately deployed is unknown.

Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the Pentagon’s National Guard Bureau, tweeted on Friday that up to 500 reservists are headed to the border.

“Always Ready, Always There! Moving up to 500 #NationalGuard troops immediately on the SW border security mission. Vehicles, equipment & helicopters on the way tonight.”

The Texas Army & Air National Guards tweeted a video of aircraft with soldiers on their way to the border.

Federal law prohibits the military from being used to enforce laws so the troops will serve as back up for law enforcement, supporting the United States Border Patrol in roles such as training, construction, logistics and intelligence gathering.

Both of Trump’s predecessors sent troops to the Mexico border, which was criticized as costly and not very effective.

In 1997, troops were temporarily suspended from patrols near the border after an 18-year-old American was killed by a Marine.

In recent years, the number of people detained crossing the border has fallen sharply and is now at the lowest since 1971, according to Border Patrol data. In fiscal year 2017, 304,000 individuals were apprehended along the U.S.-Mexico border, down from 409,000 in 2016; 331,000 in 2015; and 479,000 in 2014.