National Guard troops will be sent to help patrol the southern border in lieu of the border wall once border state governors give the authorization, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Wednesday.
"We do hope the deployment begins immediately," Nielsen said at a White House briefing on President Donald Trump's plan to have the National Guard aid in border security until the "big beautiful wall" he promised during his presidential campaign can be built.
Nielsen, a former aide to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, did not have an estimate on how many National Guard troops will be mobilized and deployed but said, "It will be as many as are needed to fill the gaps."
She said the number of troops would likely be in the range of the 6,000 who deployed as part of "Operation Jump Start" for border security during former President George W. Bush's administration.
As in Jump Start, the troops would be strictly limited to surveillance activities and would not be charged with arresting or tracking those crossing illegally, Nielsen said.
Late Tuesday, the Pentagon said the military is looking at ways to expand upon its limited support for border security in line with Trump's push to have troops involved until he can find funding for a border wall.
"There are a number of ways the Department of Defense is already supporting the DHS [Department of Homeland Security] border security mission," said Dana White, chief Pentagon spokesperson.
White referred mainly to the unmanned aerial system surveillance flights over border areas flown by U.S. Northern Command.
"We are still in consultation with the White House about ways we can expand that support," she said.
Earlier Tuesday, Trump said at the White House that the U.S. military could be used to guard the southern border with Mexico until the wall is built.
The president said he had already discussed the new mission for the military with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. "We are going to be guarding our border with the military," Trump said.
Previous efforts at military assistance for border security during the administrations of Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have involved National Guard and Reserve troops who were limited to surveillance.
Nielsen said that the deployment of the National Guard troops is the result of Trump's "frustration" at not finding funding estimated at $20 billion to $30 billion to build a border wall. He said during his presidential campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexico has thus far refused.
Trump had asked for more than $20 billion for the wall in the omnibus $1.3 trillion spending package passed by Congress last month, but only $1.6 billion was approved.
The president has proposed taking money from the military's budget for the wall, but Nielsen appeared to take that proposal off the table. She said the military might be asked to build walls only on the small sections of military land abutting the border.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.