Governor Greg Abbott has been hammering officials recently in Austin and Dallas, accusing them of creating sanctuary cities that don’t comply with federal immigration law. But a draft memo written by national Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly—and made public on Friday by the Associated Press—could put Abbott in an awkward political position on immigration.
The memo calls for border states to use National Guard troops to find and detain undocumented immigrants. That would include the National Guard troops of Texas and the Texas State Guard, of which Abbott is the commander in chief. The memo, which the Trump Administration dismissed as nothing more than a draft, suggested the federal government should negotiate with Texas and other states to use the Guard as immigration enforcement officers. In effect, the memo proposes that Abbott and other governors potentially could mobilize an effective immigrant detention force. The Kelly memo said:
Pursuant to Title 32 of the United States Code, State National Guard components are employees of their respective states and are under the command of their Governors when they are not in federal service. Based on their training and experience, these men and women are particularly well-suited to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law and augment border security operations by Department components.
It went on to urge immediate negotiations with states to use Guard and militia units as arms of federal immigration enforcement under a program called 287g, named for a section of the federal immigration code. There already are four law enforcement agencies in Texas operating under the 287g program in cooperation with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement arm of homeland security, including the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. Former Governor Rick Perry previously activated the National Guard to support federal and local authorities in border security activities, but not as actual immigration officers.
The controversy erupted early Friday when the AP reported that the Trump administration was considering activating 100,000 National Guard troops to serve as immigration enforcement officers. Trump spokesman Sean Spicer rushed to deny the report while admitting that such a discussion might have occurred. From the White House pool report:
“That is 100% not true. It is false. It is irresponsible to be saying this.”
“There is no effort at all to round up, to utilize the National Guard to round up illegal immigrants.”
“I wish you guys had asked before you tweeted,” he added. AP reporter noted they asked multiple times before publication.
Spicer couldn’t categorically state that this was never a subject of discussion somewhere in the administration.
“I don’t know what could potentially be out there, but I know that there is no effort to do what is potentially suggested.”
Abbott’s office shortly afterward issued a statement through spokesman John Wittman denying any talks are occurring with ICE. “The Office of the Governor has not received, much less seen, a memo or request from the White House or Department of Homeland Security regarding the use of Texas National Guard troops for immigration enforcement. The White House has adamantly denied there are efforts underway to mobilize the National Guard for this purpose.”
Texas House Democratic Caucus Chairman Chris Turner called the Kelly memo “dangerous and un-American.” He said Abbott should declare that Texas will not participate in such a program, but noted that two yeas ago Abbott assigned Texas state guardsmen to monitor a U.S. Army training exercise known as Jade Helm that many conspiracy theorists believed was laying the groundwork for a military takeover of Texas. “Two years ago, Governor Abbott insulted United States military special forces when he expressed angst about Operation Jade Helm, a routine training exercise. Given the governor’s past concerns about federal overreach, I’m confident he will swiftly and categorically reject and condemn this dangerous plan from the Trump Administration,” Turner said in a statement.