California governor to draw down guard troops at border

SACRAMENTO, California (AP) — California Governor Gavin Newsom planned to withdraw several hundred National Guard troops from the state’s southern border with Mexico in defiance of the Trump administration’s request for support from border states.

About 100 of the 360 troops will remain deployed under California’s agreement with the federal government to focus specifically on combating transnational crime such as drug and gun smuggling, Newsom spokesman Nathan Click said. Specifically, they will be tasked with providing intelligence on transnational crime and assist with cargo dock operations and searches of commercial trucks for contraband.

Newsom’s move comes on the heels of New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, also a Democrat, pulling back her state’s troops from the United States (US)-Mexico border. The two state’s former governors agreed to send troops to the border last April at the Trump administration’s request along with Texas and Arizona.

Newsom’s and Grisham’s actions are a fresh, if symbolic, affront to President Donald Trump’s description of an immigration crisis on the nation’s southern border.

“The border ‘emergency’ is a manufactured crisis, and California will not be part of this political theatre,” Newsom plans to say in his State of the State address today, according to excerpts released by his office.

Governor Gavin Newsom speaks in Sacramento, California. – AP

Newsom will reassign roughly 110 troops to beef up California’s fire preparation efforts ahead of the next wildfire season and expand the guard’s counterdrug task force program. The expansion of the counterdrug task force requires approval from the US Department of Defense.

The original mission, approved by former California Governor Jerry Brown, was set to end March 31. The order Newsom planned to send will require the guard to immediately begin withdrawing troops but still give it until the end of March to do so. When Brown, a fellow Democrat, approved the mission in April, he said no California troops would participate in immigration-related activities. He similarly ordered the troops to focus on combating transnational crime.

“This will not be a mission to build a new wall,” Brown wrote at the time in a letter to Trump administration officials. “It will not be a mission to round up women and children or detain people escaping violence and seeking a better life. And the California National Guard will not be enforcing federal immigration laws.”

Newsom’s Monday order will argue that the increase in Central American migrants crossing over the border is the result of a desire to escape violence and repression fuelled in part by the activities of transnational crime organisations. The California guard’s resources are best spent tackling those activities, he plans to argue.