The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New Mexico governor withdraws most National Guard troops from southern border

U.S. Border Patrol agents check for footprints near a border fence at the U.S.-Mexico border at sunset in Antelope Wells, N.M., on Jan. 30, 2019. (John Moore/Getty Images)

EL PASO — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday night ordered the state’s National Guard to withdraw most of its troops assigned to the southern border, rejecting the contention that “an overwhelming national security crisis” exists.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who took office last month after serving six years in the U.S. House, made the announcement shortly before President Trump’s State of the Union address, in which he spoke of a “tremendous onslaught” at the southern border.

Lujan Grisham said she would keep some New Mexico Guardsmen in the southwest corner of the state, which has seen a huge influx of Central American families in recent months. But she said she rejected “the federal contention that there exists an overwhelming national security crisis at the southern border, along which are some of the safest communities in the country.”

President Trump reiterated the importance of walls during his second State of the Union speech on Feb. 5. (Video: The Washington Post)

“New Mexico will not take part in the president’s charade of border fearmongering by misusing our diligent National Guard troops,” she added.

In addition to pulling her state’s National Guard forces back from the border, Lujan Grisham also asked that Guard troops assigned to New Mexico from Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Wisconsin leave immediately. A statement said 118 total National Guard troops are deployed in New Mexico as part of a border mission ordered last April by Trump.

A spokeswoman for the governor said 11 to 15 Guard troops would remain in the southwestern part of the state, which has become a popular destination in recent months for smugglers bringing large groups of migrant families to the border. More than 300 people have entered the country at a time at the remote crossing in Antelope Wells, N.M., immediately surrendering to Border Patrol agents.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials last week credited a National Guard helicopter crew with helping to seize about 136 pounds of marijuana, leading to the arrest of four men allegedly smuggling the drug across the border in a remote area of southwestern New Mexico.

In April 2018, then-New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, ordered about 80 Guard troops to the border in response to Trump’s decision to deploy the Guard to the border. Several other governors sent units from their states.

Lujan Grisham, then the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, called on Martinez to cancel the deployment in June as the Trump administration ramped up its “zero tolerance” border enforcement policy, separating thousands of migrant children from their parents. Five other governors — including Republicans in Massachusetts and Maryland — canceled their Guard missions to protest family separations, but the New Mexico Guard continued its deployment.

In his speech, Trump also said he was ordering 3,750 additional troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. Thousands of active-duty troops were deployed last fall as a caravan of Central American migrants made its way north through Mexico.