Updated 6:33 p.m.
Gov. Jerry Brown took a full week before responding to President Trump’s request to deploy California National Guard troops to the Mexican border. His answer, released Wednesday: Yes, but with so many caveats it’s not clear Trump will get anything close to what he sought.
While the Republican governors of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona swiftly agreed to President Trump’s request to deploy the guard, the lone Democratic border state governor kept absolutely silent for a full week.
It’s now clear that Brown used that time to negotiate specific conditions under which the California National Guard will deploy.
“Let’s be crystal clear on the scope of this mission,” Brown wrote in a letter that accompanied the Memorandum of Agreement he submitted Wednesday to Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. “This will not be a mission to build a new wall. 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.”
First, the governor is using the federal funds to bolster an existing program that seeks to combat transnational crime — such as gangs, human traffickers, and illegal gun and drug smugglers.
Second, they won’t enforce immigration laws, make any immigration arrests, participate in any border wall construction, or be employed in a direct law enforcement role.
Third, not all of the 400 troops Brown agreed to accept federal funding for will deploy to the border; some will also deploy elsewhere in the state.
And fourth, the agreement Brown reached with the Trump administration will expire on September 30 — less than six months from now — unless both sides agree to extend it.
“Gov. Brown is simply getting a fresh pot of money from the federal government to do what the governor has explained in his memo,” said University of Southern California law lecturer Dwight Stirling, who’s written a legal paper about how governors — not presidents — control National Guard deployments.
“If the president were dissatisfied with the limitations,” he added, “then the president could say, ‘That’s great, Gov. Brown, but we’re not gonna fund it, so thanks but no thanks.’”
Instead, the governor’s agreement to deploy troops in California drew a swift and favorable response from the White House and the Department of Homeland Security, which categorized Brown’s decision as aiding border security efforts.
“We are also glad to see California Gov. Jerry Brown work with the administration and send members of the National Guard to help secure the southern border,” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said at the start of the White House press briefing Wednesday.
Lawyers for the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security will review the Memorandum of Agreement submitted by Brown Wednesday that sets out those conditions.
In a statement, DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman said Secretary Nielsen “is pleased to have the support of all four border governors to help secure our southwest border. Issues of border security require the partnership of the federal government and our state and local allies to be successful.”
The governor and Secretary Nielsen spoke Wednesday after Brown submitted the memorandum, after at least two earlier conversations last week.
Republican political consultant Rob Stutzman said he’s “impressed” by what he called Brown’s “good governing decision.”
“To me, that seemed like he, instead of grandstanding for political purposes against the president, gave the president his conditions, took advantage of taking the federal money, and will go down there and fight crime on the border,” he said.
As for the Trump administration, Stutzman said Brown’s decision lets the White House call it a win and move on.