RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The governors of Virginia, West Virginia and South Carolina on Wednesday joined a growing list of Republican leaders sending their state National Guard soldiers or other state law enforcement officers to the U.S. border with Mexico.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who is considered a possible presidential aspirant, announced an executive order directing the deployment of 100 Virginia National Guard soldiers and 21 support personnel. South Carolina’s Henry McMaster and West Virginia’s Jim Justice announced their deployments shortly thereafter, also in response to a request from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
The announcements bring to at least eight the number of Republican-led states deploying soldiers or offering other assistance in the weeks since Abbott appealed for help.
“The ongoing border crisis facing our nation has turned every state into a border state,” Youngkin said in a statement. “As leadership solutions at the federal level fall short, states are answering the call to secure our southern border, reduce the flow of fentanyl, combat human trafficking and address the humanitarian crisis.”
President Joe Biden announced in early May plans to send 1,500 active-duty troops to the border, in addition to the 2,500 National Guard members already there. Those military personnel were tasked with data entry, warehouse support and other administrative duties so that U.S. Customs and Border Protection can focus on fieldwork, the White House said.
But the Virginia deployment and others from Republican-led states have specifically been in support of Texas’ Operation Lone Star, which is separate from the active duty and National Guard troops working with the Customs and Border Protection.
Abbott launched Lone Star in 2021, saying that the Biden administration was essentially welcoming illegal immigration. Critics have questioned the effectiveness of the multi-billion dollar operation. Some arrests, including for low-level amounts of marijuana during traffic stops, appeared to have little to do with border security, and some Texas National Guard troops initially complained of low morale, late paychecks and having little to do.
Abbott’s request this month came through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which facilitates state-level mutual aid nationwide. Youngkin and McMaster also joined other governors in Austin last week to discuss border policies.
McMaster’s news release said South Carolina’s mission is “in the planning phase,” with a goal of deployment by July 1. Justice said he had approved the deployment of as many as 50 West Virginia National Guard soldiers and airmen for 30 days.
Youngkin’s order said the Virginia troops will answer to a military commander during a 30-day deployment, not any local civilian authorities. The operating cost of the mission is $3.1 million, spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said in an email.
Youngkin, a former private equity executive who is barred under Virginia law from seeking a second consecutive term, is frequently mentioned as a possible 2024 presidential contender. He said earlier this month that he had no plans to launch such a bid this year.
Presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is among the other governors who have announced plans to deploy Guard troops and other officers since Abbott’s request was made. Mississippi, Iowa, Tennessee, and Nebraska have also volunteered aid, and other GOP-led states have made similar deployments in recent years, part of the party’s criticism of Biden’s performance on the border.
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment on the states’ deployments.
In Virginia, while some Republicans praised Youngkin’s decision, the state’s Democrats characterized the move as absurd, disingenuous or politically motivated.
“Youngkin for President has officially jumped the shark — our VA National Guard troops shouldn’t be used to further presidential ambitions much less fight a MAGA culture war in Texas of all places — Never thought I would see my state so compromised,” tweeted state Sen. Scott Surovell.
Associated Press reporters John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; Jeffrey Collins and James Pollard in Columbia, South Carolina; and Rebecca Santana in Washington contributed to this report.