Kansas Republicans for months have been pushing Gov. Laura Kelly to send resources to the southern border in response to the flow of migrants crossing into the United States.
In June, the state’s three GOP congressmen pressed the Democratic governor, citing a “meteoric rise” in illegal immigration. This week, Kelly’s likely 2022 re-election opponent, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, and top Kansas lawmakers again called on her to offer help.
As it turns out, the Kansas National Guard has already been there for nearly a year.
The Guard’s 137th Transportation Company deployed in October 2020 on a year-long mission to help secure the border. Kelly didn’t announce the deployment of about 250 soldiers at the time and there’s no record of an announcement by the Guard. She has previously criticized the Republican calls as “political games.”
National Guard soldiers from across the country were first deployed to the border in 2018 by former President Donald Trump. It’s unclear what role, if any, Kelly played in the 2020 deployment.
The Kansas Army National Guard posted a video to Facebook on Oct. 14, 2020, wishing the soldiers well. The post said the Company deployed in support of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s mission along the southwest border.
The Company’s mission is “to enhance the CBP’s border security operations and enable CBP agents to conduct their law enforcement mission more efficiently,” the post said.
“I ask you to remain safe. Find a friend, find a battle buddy. Help each other to be able to get through this next year,” Brig. Gen. Anthony Mohatt said in the video, which was directed at soldiers and their families.
Kelly’s office on Wednesday said nearly 250 Guard soldiers had been deployed to the border since October 2020 supporting CBP but provided no other details. A Kelly spokesman deferred questions to the Guard.
Jane Welch, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Emergency Management, said in an email Thursday that soldiers had been deployed as part of a federal mobilization. Welch didn’t immediately respond to questions regarding the length of the deployment or whether it had to be approved by Kelly.
The troops, she said, have been supporting law enforcement with border protection and assisting with administrative tasks including gate guard duty, motor transport maintenance and camera operations.
The mission is not identical to the assistance Republicans have asked Kelly to deliver. Kansas Republicans have asked Kelly to send law enforcement resources as part of an “Emergency Management Assistance Compact” between the states. Their purpose would be to enforce state and federal law along the border. The governors of Arizona and Texas have asked Kelly and other governors for the assistance.
In a statement on Wednesday referencing the deployment, Kelly spokesman Sam Coleman called for immigration reform.
“Both Republicans and Democrats in Washington have failed to address the problems within our immigration system for decades,” Coleman said. “We need true reform in a way that protects the border and allows us to continue to grow our economy here in Kansas, not publicity stunts that use our service members as political props.”
Republicans, however, said Kelly still needs to speak on how the Biden administration has handled the border.
“The questions for Laura Kelly are what is she herself as chief executive doing to protect Kansans?” said Joanna Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the Republican Governors Association “And if she wasn’t involved in this decision for the National Guard deployment she doesn’t get to take credit for it.”
While the deployment to the border wasn’t publicized by the Kelly administration, the governor’s office has announced deployments this year to Louisiana for hurricane response and within Kansas in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She also authorized the deployment of soldiers to Washington, D.C., in the wake of the Capitol riot on Jan. 6.