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Initial deployment of Guard troops arrives at the California-Mexico border

Initial deployment of Guard troops arrives at the California-Mexico border
Gloria Chavez, the Border Patrol chief in the El Centro sector, welcomes California National Guard members on Monday. They will bolster border security and other duties but will not be asked to arrest immigrants crossing the border illegally. (John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The initial deployment of California National Guard troops has arrived at the international border and will soon begin backing up federal law enforcement agents.

Standing before 51 troops during a Monday morning news conference, Gloria Chavez — the new Border Patrol chief in the El Centro sector — said the unarmed Operation Guardian Support soldiers would serve in support roles and won't be asked to arrest any suspected gun runners, drug mules or immigrants crossing the border illegally.

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"They'll be assisting from behind the scenes so that our agents are able to get to the front lines and do the border security," she said.

Chavez said that California National Guard headquarters in Sacramento is expected to send an additional 22 airmen and soldiers to her sector before the deployment wraps up at the end of September. The initial wave of troops is undergoing training that will reorient them to operations along the international border.

"They'll be working cameras," she said. "They'll be working in offices. They'll be conducting intelligence analysis. They'll also be helping us with road infrastructure with regards to vegetation and road clearing and such, but it'll never be a front-line border security assignment or task."

The El Centro sector stretches for 71 miles along the border from the Jacumba Mountains in the west to the Imperial Sand Dunes in the east and includes the cities of El Centro, Calexico, Brawley, Indio and Riverside.

In the budget year that ended Sept. 30, El Centro agents apprehended 18,633 immigrants in the U.S. illegally and interdicted 5,554 pounds of marijuana, 483 pounds of cocaine and 1,526 pounds of methamphetamines. They also reported 21 assaults against Border Patrol personnel.

About 900 agents are detaining an average of about 80 unauthorized immigrants a day, Chavez said.

Following a back-and-forth with President Trump over how National Guard personnel would be used along the border, Gov. Jerry Brown set a limit of 400 troops to be used to beef up border security, targeting criminal gangs, human traffickers and smugglers moving guns and drugs statewide.

Before the arrival of the troops in El Centro, the Guard had 250 personnel assisting transnational counter-narcotics efforts statewide, 55 of them along the border with Mexico.

Prine writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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