Maine Members of Congress Question Trump's Call for National Guard at the Border

Apr 6, 2018

President Trump's proclamation directing the deployment of the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border has prompted pushback from some members of Maine's congressional delegation. These representatives want to know more about how many troops would be called and for how long.

President Trump's call for troops along the Mexican border caught many by surprise. As Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen emphasized during a Wednesday press conference, the president is in a hurry.

"We do hope that the deployment begins immediately, I will be continuing to have conversations with the governors today," Nielsen said.

According to the Associated Press, Trump has characterized illegal immigration over the southern border as having reached "a point of crisis," saying it is a threat to the safety, security and sovereignty of the American people.

The governors of the southwestern states that border Mexico have been largely supportive of the initiative, but some of those to the north have been less so. Democratic Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon said that her state will not be answering the call to militarize the U.S. border.

In Maine, the governor's office and the state Adjutant General are still waiting for the call. Sen. Susan Collins said if that call comes, it wouldn't be the first time that a president made such a request. "Two previous presidents have also deployed guard members on the border," Collins said.

But Collins said deploying the guard to the border requires clear justification, and that's something that she said the president has not yet provided.

"I'm concerned that the administration does not seem to have a very firm plan in mind about how many troops, how long would they be there, for what purpose." Collins said. "Whenever we use the military for law enforcement purposes given the restrictions against doing that, Congress should be involved in the decision making."

Federal law prohibits the use of active-duty service members to conduct law enforcement inside the United States, unless specifically authorized by Congress. An Associated Press report quoted one congressional aide as saying that 300 to 1,200 troops could be deployed at a cost of between $60 million to $120 million per year.

Those numbers concern Sen. Angus King. “This is going to cost money, it's going to be expensive, and we don't know for how long these deployments would be," King said.

In addition to the price tag, King questions why the Trump administration is trying to convince the states' governors to call out the guard at a time when illegal border crossing are at some of their lowest levels in more than 45 years.

"First question is, is there an emergency, what's the problem," King said. "The second question is what would be the mission of these troops. These are not people that are trained to be border patrol agents, they're not law enforcement agents. In fact I think they're prohibited from being law enforcement agents, so I would want to understand what they're supposed to be doing."

First District Congressperson Chellie Pingree opposes the deployment and was skeptical of Trump's intent. In a written statement, she said that the proclamation was a "politically-motivated effort to exploit anti-foreigner sentiment and appeal to his base.”

Second District Congressman Bruce Poliquin did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

This story was originally published April 5, 2018 at 5:18 p.m. ET.