President Donald Trump’s administration said this week he would send National Guard troops to patrol the southern border for people trying to sneak into the United States. It's a mission the Maryland National Guard has carried out twice in recent years.
Trump came into office promising to build a wall along the border. But finding it difficult to get that plan underway, the president said he would send military forces to bolster civilian security patrols. It ultimately emerged that the government’s plan is to use the National Guard for the job.
The plans, including how many troops might be involved, have yet to be disclosed publicly.
Col. Charles Kohler, a spokesman for the Maryland National Guard, said he had received no guidance on the plans or any request for assistance.
“We’re always prepared and ready to respond if needed,” Kohler said.
Then-presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both used National Guard troops to augment federal border patrols and forces from Maryland were involved in both efforts.
In 2006, 120 troops from the Maryland Guard were deployed to Arizona for 60 days under a Bush Administration effort to put 6,000 guardsmen on the border. The soldiers, some of them just back from a tour in Iraq, scanned the border from helicopters and coordinated with Border Patrol agents to apprehend people attempting to cross.
In 2012 and 2014, Maryland Guard units were again in the helicopters on the border, that time in Texas as part of Operation River Watch II. Civil libertarians raised concerns at the time about the militarization of the border, but local property owners said they were glad to see reinforcements.
One night, the troops painted people crossing the border with laser light from the sky. It was invisible to the naked eye but that stood out brightly to anyone wearing night vision goggles and helped Border Patrol agents close in. Later, a federal agent riding in the helicopter used a normal but exceedingly bright light to drive people back into Mexico.
The Maryland Guard’s work at the border goes back more than a century, when it was deployed to back up Texan troops hunting for Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa.