A National Guard soldier monitors the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014 in Havana, Texas. | John Moore/Getty Images

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2018-04-04T04:33-0400

President Donald Trump has directed officials to deploy the National Guard to the southern U.S. border as part of a push to curb illegal immigration, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said Wednesday.

Nielsen told reporters during the White House press briefing that Trump “will be signing a proclamation to that effect today.”

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“The president has directed that the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security to work together with our governors to deploy our National Guard to our southwest border to assist the border patrol,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen added that plans were still “being finalized” but that officials were “working with all haste” to implement the measure. “We do hope that the deployment begins immediately,” she said. Nielsen said that personnel could be deployed as early as Wednesday night, but that the rollout would be made in conjunction with state officials.

The DHS secretary did not specify how many troops would be deployed, but said they would serve similar functions as when they were dispatched to the border by past administrations, including assisting in aerial surveillance and providing support functions to current patrol officials.

Nielsen declined to comment on how much the deployment would cost but added that “past numbers should be indicative.”

Pressed on whether the troops would be tasked with enforcement measures, such as arresting undocumented immigrants, Nielsen said they would not “as of now.”

The announcement came a day after Trump said he intended to deploy military personnel to the U.S.-Mexico border until his administration was able to deliver on his campaign promise to build a wall to bolster security. The president did not elaborate on the timing for the decision.

Nielsen said she had discussed the measure with Mexican officials. “They understand and respect national sovereignty,” she said.

“We are going to be guarding our border with our military. That’s a big step,” Trump said on Tuesday during a session at the White House with Baltic leaders. “We cannot have people flowing into our country illegally, disappearing and, by the way, never showing up for court.”

Trump’s decision to send troops to the southern border is not without precedent. Former President George W. Bush deployed roughly 6,000 members of the National Guard from 2006 to 2008 to assist Customs and Border Protection officials. The troops were armed but did not have the authority to carry out law enforcement functions, like detaining suspects.

Former President Barack Obama in 2010 sent about 1,200 National Guard members to the border, primarily to perform surveillance functions.

Trump administration officials cautioned on Wednesday that troop deployment alone would be insufficient if Congress did not address issues in the immigration system at the legislative level.

“This will not be enough if Congress does not act to pass clear, fair and effective legislation that ends the illegality and creates a system that serves the national interest,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “It is essential for Congress to act.”

In his remarks, Sessions directly cited recent media reports about a “so-called ‘migrant caravan’ in emphasizing the need for dispatching the National Guard. Earlier this week, the president launched a Twitter spree on immigration shortly after Fox News aired a report on a large group of Central American immigrants making its way through Mexico. The sequence raised questions of whether Trump was influenced by Fox in opting to deploy troops.

Nielsen and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to comment at Wednesday’s briefing on whether the Fox News report had affected Trump’s thinking on the matter.

The president’s proposal was met by skepticism from some former military officials and Democratic lawmakers, with Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) calling it a “waste” of taxpayer money on Tuesday.

Sanders fired back at the criticism on Wednesday.

“If that congressman’s so concerned, maybe he ought to show up and actually support legislation that would fix these problems instead of blaming the president that’s actually doing something about it,” she said.

Trump has made securing the southern border a focal point of his presidency, with plans to beef up border security and create a wall as key components.

Last month, Customs and Border Protection officials unveiled that the administration would put 2018 congressional appropriations — about $1.6 billion — toward creating or replacing roughly 100 miles of wall structures along the southern U.S. border.

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