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Oklahoma National Guard deployment to Texas-Mexico border paid for by disaster response funds

Gov. Kevin Stitt visits Oklahoma National Guard soldiers stationed at the US-Mexico border.
Meyer Siegfried
Office of the Governor
Gov. Kevin Stitt visits Oklahoma National Guard soldiers stationed at the US-Mexico border.

Oklahoma spent more than $544,000 for the state’s National Guard to help secure the U.S. border with Mexico, money that came from a disaster fund typically used for National Guard response to tornadoes and other extreme weather events.

Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, heeding a call from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, called up the National Guard for a 30-day state deployment in August. More than a dozen Republican governors, who have criticized President Joe Biden’s border security policies, sent National Guard members to assist Abbott’s Operation Lone Star.

The deployments drew criticism from Democrats because border security historically is a federal responsibility and National Guard soldiers and airmen called up for that role had fewer enforcement powers than U.S. Border Patrol agents.

Stitt joined Abbott and Republican governors from Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota at a press conference in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Aug. 21. Stitt said he was concerned about illegal drugs like fentanyl being smuggled across the border and people on terrorism watchlists evading authorities at border crossings.

“Every state is a border state,” Stitt said at the press conference, echoing talking points from fellow Republican governors.

Lt. Col. LeeAnn Tumblson, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Air National Guard, said during the August mission a 50-person contingent of Oklahoma’s National Guard helped with 969 detections that resulted in 23 apprehensions by law enforcement. They successfully turned back 1,183 migrants without incident, she said.

Costs for the deployment are complicated. The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security typically pays for state active-duty National Guard deployments out of that agency’s State Emergency Fund, said spokeswoman Keli Cain.

Because the Oklahoma deployment used equipment funded by the federal government, the state will have to turn around and reimburse the federal government for those costs, Tumblson said.

The deployment to Texas was under the governor’s powers to deploy the Guard under state active duty status. Texas did not reimburse Oklahoma for the costs. Unlike federal deployments domestically or internationally, Guard members deploying under state active duty aren’t eligible for federal Veterans Administration care if they get injured.

The influx of migrants at the country’s southern border with Mexico stems partly from the expiration of a Trump-era Remain in Mexico policy that had asylum seekers wait in Mexico as their cases progressed through the U.S. immigration court system. A separate pandemic-related health emergency that limited migrant crossings expired in May, putting further pressure on immigration authorities at the southern border.

Abbott launched Operation Lone Star in the spring of 2021 with thousands of state Department of Public Safety troopers dispatched to the Texas border. They were followed by thousands more members of the Texas National Guard. To date, Texas has spent more than $5 billion on the initiative, with some of the money diverted from its prison budget.

Abbott recently signed a Texas law that made illegal immigration a state crime, allowing police to arrest people they suspect crossed the Rio Grande between ports of entry. That law, which takes effect in March, likely sets up a legal challenge from the federal government.

Stitt’s callup of the Oklahoma National Guard to help with Operation Lone Star included a provision to go back in 2024 with another 50 Guard members if the need arises, Tumblson said.

Stitt’s office said there are no plans for a second deployment to the Texas-Mexico border.

Oklahoma Watch, at oklahomawatch.org, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers public-policy issues facing the state.

Oklahoma Watch is a non-profit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state. Oklahoma Watch is non-partisan and strives to be balanced, fair, accurate and comprehensive. The reporting project collaborates on occasion with other news outlets. Topics of particular interest include poverty, education, health care, the young and the old, and the disadvantaged.
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