Gov. Scott Walker launched himself headlong into the immigration debate Monday, advocating for military training facilities along the Mexican border after previously backing President Donald Trump’s call for sending National Guard troops to patrol.
However, Walker did not say whether he would activate Wisconsin National Guard members and send them to the border as governors in Texas and Arizona have done.
“The state of Wisconsin has not been asked to assist with any southwest border missions at this time,” said Walker spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg. “If our assistance is needed, Major General Donald Dunbar, Wisconsin’s Adjutant General and homeland security adviser, will brief Governor Walker and plans of support will be made at that time.”
Walker’s statements came in response to a letter from U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Black Earth, who urged him not to send Wisconsin National Guard troops to the Mexican border.
“As Governor, I want to ensure the safety of all of our citizens, and I want to reduce access to illegal drugs as part of a comprehensive strategy in dealing with opioid and illegal drug addiction,” Walker wrote in a letter to Pocan. “Therefore, I welcome President Donald Trump’s aggressive actions to secure our nation’s southern border.”
Pocan had criticized Trump’s plan as “ill-conceived” and “grossly irresponsible” when border crossings are down and said it would “only serve to belittle and politicize the dedicated service of our troops.”
“Our service members in Wisconsin should not be used as pawns while President Trump attempts to rally his base after Congress has repeatedly rejected his demands to build a border wall,” Pocan wrote.
Pocan criticized the move again Monday.
Walker noted that previous presidents — including George W. Bush, a Republican, and Barack Obama, a Democrat — sent National Guard troops to the border. Bush sent more than 6,000 troops in 2006 at a cost of $1.2 billion to build fences and roads, and Obama deployed 1,200 troops in 2010 at a cost of $160 million to help apprehend more than 25,000 immigrants who crossed the border illegally, according to The Washington Post.
The exchange comes as Walker runs for a third term in November in a state that backed Trump, whose hard-line position and rhetoric on immigration was a key component of his election strategy.
Trump called for sending 2,000 to 4,000 National Guard members to the border after Congress rebuffed his request for $25 billion to build a wall along the southern border.
Instead, it authorized $1.6 billion in border security funding, including $38 million for a border barrier.
The monthly number of people apprehended at the southwest border hit an all-time low a year ago, but rebounded to typical levels last month, according to the Department of Homeland Security. There were 415,191 apprehensions last year, down about 20 percent from the previous four-year average. Some have attributed the reduction to a “Trump effect” because of the president’s position on immigration.