After a contentious standoff between the state and federal government, California National Guard troops started training Thursday with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to be camera operators, radio dispatchers and other support roles. Some troops could start their new jobs as soon as Sunday or Monday.
In April, President Donald Trump ordered National Guard troops to deploy to the U.S.-Mexico border to help federal authorities combat illegal immigration and drug trafficking. But California has battled the administration over immigration issues.
Governor Jerry Brown ultimately agreed to contribute 400 troops to the National Guard's border deployment to help go after drugs, guns and criminal gangs — not immigrants.
The governor has said under the terms of the agreement the state reached with the Trump administration, California Guard cannot handle custody duties for anyone accused of immigration violations, build border barriers or have anything to do with immigration enforcement.
David Kim, an assistant chief patrol agent in Imperial Valley, says the National Guard troops will be in jobs that keep them out of contact with migrants, such as manning various surveillance platforms like camera systems, helping with maintenance, and conducting administrative support. This will free up his Border Patrol agents to focus on immigration law enforcement.
"Anytime that Border Patrol agent is not out in the field conducting border patrol operations does have a real impact on border security," Kim said.
However, some critics point out this arrangement still ultimately implicates California National Guard troops in immigration enforcement.
"It's giving the President exactly what he wants, while allowing the governor to say he's on the right side of the line that he drew for himself," said Dwight Stirling, Veterans Legal Institute CEO.
About 250 troops are training with supervisors in San Diego, but more troops may be added. The current plan has them at the border at least through September.
Maj. Kimberly Holman told The Associated Press that the National Guard troops so far involved all volunteered for the mission because they want to keep California safe.
"Nobody has been ordered to come here," she said. "Everyone is here by choice and has said, 'I would like to support this mission.'"
Troops will work in the San Diego sector and in neighboring Imperial County. National Guard troops are also assisting agents in three other U.S. states bordering Mexico — Arizona, New Mexico and Texas — all governed by Republicans.
This article contains reporting from the Associated Press.
Chloe Veltman contributed to this report.