Governor explains Guard's job at border

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing regarding federal policies on sentencing for crack and powder cocaine, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 22, 2021.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson clarified on Thursday afternoon the role to be performed by Arkansas National Guard troops sent to the Texas border - mostly vehicle maintenance and repairs for the multistate task force.

Hutchinson told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the Guard unit is a vehicle-maintenance crew that will provide "mechanical support" during the deployment.

"It's an important training mission for us, but also an important national mission as well," he said.

The Republican governor on Tuesday authorized a 90-day deployment of up to 40 Guard members to the border.

"I have authorized this mission in response to an official request from Texas on the urgent matter at our southern border," Hutchinson said Tuesday in a news release. "My hope is that our 90 days of support will improve the security of our country and reduce the adverse impact of illegal immigration on Arkansas."

The decision was made after Hutchinson announced at a news conference earlier that day that he wasn't sending Arkansas State Police troopers to the U.S. border with Mexico.

"I have given that some thought," Hutchinson said Tuesday. "I have talked to the colonel [state police Director William Bryant] and evaluated that. Because of the public safety needs that we have in Arkansas and because of the important work that they are doing here, I will not be sending the Arkansas State Police to the border."

The governor said that after Tuesday news conference, he spoke with Maj. Gen. Kendall Penn with the Arkansas National Guard about the chain of command if Hutchinson were to send troops to Texas and afterward felt comfortable enough to pledge the deployment.

Hutchinson said the Arkansas National Guard unit will report to the Texas National Guard task force for operational direction, but will still be under the command of Penn.

Shealyn Sowers, spokeswoman for the governor's office, said Hutchinson will have the authority to recall the unit if needed.

Hutchinson joined a list of Republican governors who have pledged personnel to assist Texas as the GOP clashes with President Joe Biden over border security. At least four states - Idaho, Iowa, Nebraska and Florida - sent state troopers.

South Dakota turned to private donors to pay for the deployment, but Hutchinson said Thursday that the state will be paying for the trip.

Sowers said the National Guard said the deployment is estimated to cost up to $575,000.

Lt. Col Brian Mason, spokesman for the Arkansas Guard, said the specifics of the mission will be to repair and recover vehicles for the border task force. He said the maintenance crew is expected to be around 20 to 30 troops, but can be up to 40 if Hutchinson requests it.

"They will assist as part of Operation Lone Star," he said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Department of Public Safety opened Operation Lone Star in March to combat the smuggling of people and drugs into Texas. The operation is a collaboration between the state's Public Safety Department and its Guard. They are watching the border from the air and on the ground.

Mason said that he didn't have an exact date for when troops would go to Texas, but it wouldn't be before July 25. He said he also didn't know the deployment location at this time.

Large numbers of migrants have been showing up at the U.S. border with Mexico, with many surrendering to U.S. border agents and seeking legal asylum status. About 180,000 migrants were taken into custody in May, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.

Information for this article was contributed by Michael R. Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.