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Former National Guard Chief On What A 2006 Border Deployment Tells Us Today

Retired Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, left, and former assistant defense secretary Paul McHale, center, visit Utah National Guard troops as they extend a border fence in San Luis, Ariz., in 2006.
Khampha Bouaphanh

In a proposal to reduce illegal immigration, President Trump signed a proclamation Wednesday for the deployment of National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. And on Thursday, he more fully detailed his plan, claiming he'd like to see 2,000 to 4,000 Guard troops sent to support the U.S. Border Patrol.

It's a move that has several precedents. The most recent took place in 2006, in which President George W. Bush deployed 6,000 troops to the southern border over a two-year period. The process was overseen by retired Lieutenant General Steven Blum, who led the National Guard from 2003 to 2008.

Blum says that he doesn't yet have enough details of the current deployment plan to inform his opinion on it. But he has confidence in the Guard's ability to perform if goals are clearly outlined.

"They are trained, they are equipped, they're available, they're ready," he says. "And they have shown very, very many times in their recent history that they're more than up to this kind of a nuanced task."

Interview Highlights

On if the National Guard would be building fences, repairing roads, and keeping lookout for those crossing the border

Those tasks are among the tasks that we did perform for President Bush. The idea is to free up badges back to the border. In other words, let as many border patrol people as possible do their primary job, which is protect our borders, and to handle immigrants that do not come into our country through a legal process....

They get more out of the numbers of agents that they actually have because they don't have to do other tasks that are not specifically related to that.

On if sending the National Guard to the border would affect its ability to operate elsewhere

Without understanding how the National Guard deploys and generates its forces, that's a reasonable concern. However, you have to remember the National Guard almost approaches a half a million people. So when you're talking about 2,000 people out of a half a million people ... it would affect that 2,000, but it does not affect the ability of the National Guard to provide forces for the federal mission, for the secretary of defense and the president, and/or the governors of our states....

The guard can do both missions simultaneously. It has in the past at greater numbers — with a greater demand, by the way, on how many troops we had overseas. Back in 2006, 2008 we were carrying a very heavy burden in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa ... and doing peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia. So the guard can do this.

This story as heard onAll Things Considered was produced and edited by Noah Caldwell and Courtney Dorning.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
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