The Massachusetts National Guard will be sending a helicopter and a two-person flight crew to the southwestern border later this month to support President Donald Trump’s mission to curb illegal border crossings and drug trafficking by leaning on states for support, according to officials.
The crew is expected to deploy by the end of the month, and will be working with the Arizona National Guard and the New Mexico National Guard, in coordination with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, to provide air reconnaissance and track illegal activity along the border with Mexico.
Maj. Gen. Gary Keefe, the adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard, said that the decision to support the border mission came after a request was made by the Pentagon. The National Guard will be sending one UH-72 Lakota helicopter and two military analysts to pilot the aircraft.
“We have a proud history of answering the call when our country needs us,” Keefe said in a statement to the News Service. “Our Soldiers are prepared for the task and proud to participate in this mission to provide air support, along with detection and monitoring capabilities for border security operations to strengthen homeland security.”
Trump in April ordered the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security to deploy National Guard troops to the southern border to assist federal border agents, indicating at the time that he would like to see 2,000 to 4,000 National Guard troops called up.
Some states, notably California, have fought with the Pentagon over whether to comply with requests and over what duties National Guard troops will perform once activated along the border.
The participation in Trump’s border security mission comes at a politically sensitive time for Gov. Charlie Baker, who is heavily favored to win a second term, but has cultivated his support, in part, by distancing himself from a White House that is as unpopular as he is popular in Massachusetts.
Immigration, in particular, has been a hot-button issue on Beacon Hill, where the Senate voted to add language to its annual budget bill that would restrict cooperation between local police and federal immigration officers. While Baker has said he would veto any measure that proposes to make Massachusetts a “sanctuary state,” he has also said the local communities should be able to decide how their police interact with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The guardsmen traveling to the border with the helicopter will perform law enforcement operations, the National Guard said.
The Baker administration downplayed the cooperation with the Trump administration’s border security efforts, noting that the request for resources and personnel was relatively small and that Massachusetts has assisted with border operations for both Democrat and Republican presidents.
Massachusetts National Guardsmen were activated to support Operation Jump Start under President George W. Bush from 2006 to 2008 and Operation Phalanx under President Barack Obama.
According to officials, participating border states like Arizona and New Mexico submit a request through what is known as the Joint Information Exchange Environment to the National Guard Coordination Center at National Guard Bureau. States like Massachusetts then determine if they have the ability to fulfill the mission request and can deploy if they meet the requirements.
The federal government, under Title X, will cover the full expense of the deployment, according to the administration. The Guard said the helicopter and analysts are expected to be in Arizona through September.