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A National Guard unit patrols at the Arizona-Mexico border in January 2007 in Sasabe, Ariz. President Trump has called for a Guard deployment along the border; the last two presidents ordered similar deployments. 

Ross D. Franklin

To some extent, President Donald Trump's plan to deploy National Guard troops to the United States-Mexico border is a political stunt, meant to keep attention focused on illegal immigration, one of the key themes of his campaign.

Some governors, including Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, have said they will resist the deployment — and, to some extent, this resistance also has a political overtone. Certainly, Brown doesn't lose points among her core supporters when she takes any kind of stand against Trump. (Of course, the same is true in reverse for Trump, although Oregon likely does not figure very highly in the president's re-election strategy.)

This particular clash could be in over in a hurry: If Trump decides to federalize the Guard troops under the statute known as "Title 10 duty status," that essentially would pre-empt Brown's stance. The statute establishes that National Guard personnel operate under the president's control and receive federal pay and benefits. (The statute also forbids them from performing tasks of civilian law enforcement unless explicitly authorized.)

Trump said last week that he wants to send 2,000 to 4,000 Guard members to the border to help federal officials fight illegal immigration and drug trafficking. But his order to do that did not mention Title 10; instead, it invoked a federal law called Title 32, under which governors retain command and control of Guard members from their states, with the federal government paying for the deployment. A deployment that occurs under Title 32 gives Brown and other governors the leeway to just say no.

But three Republican governors from border states (Arizona, New Mexico and Texas) all said they support the plan and would deploy Guard members. California is the fourth state on the border, and its governor, Democrat Jerry Brown, has not announced his intentions.

The verdict from governors elsewhere last week was mixed, even among Republicans: The governor of North Dakota, Doug Burgum, said he would support the plan, but the governor of Nevada, Brian Sandoval, opposes it, saying he does not believe the mission would be "an appropriate use" of the Nevada Guard. (That's an interesting point, that business about "appropriate use" of the Guard, but it's been lost somewhat in the current debate.)

It seems a safe assumption that most Republican governors will allow the deployment of Guard troops from their states. Since governors in 33 states are Republicans, Trump should be able to muster the Guard members he needs from those states. He probably wouldn't need to federalize the Guard, unless he wanted to poke a stick in the eyes of the governors in states that are balking. This being Trump, we'd rate that as about a 50-50 chance — and, again, it's not as if Trump is banking on carrying Oregon in the 2020 election.

By the way, Trump indicated last week that it was unusual for National Guard troops to be assigned to the border: "We really haven't done that before, or certainly not very much before," he said in remarks at the White House. For what it's worth, the facts suggest otherwise: The last two presidents have done that, and so did Rick Perry (who still serves in Trump's Cabinet, right?) when he was governor of Texas. George W. Bush sent more than 6,000 Guard members to the border in 2006. Barack Obama dispatched 1,200 Guard members in 2010 to beef up efforts against drug smuggling and illegal immigration, the same reasons cited by Trump in last week's proclamation. 

In the meantime, while our leaders on the state and federal levels continue to parry on the issue, the rest of us can fret over the question Nevada's governor, Sandoval, raised: Is it a good thing to use the men and women of the National Guard as pawns in what amounts to a political battle? Talk among yourselves. (mm)

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