Ruben Navarrette: GOP governors are running to the border, and it's all politics

Summary: Is this deployment of National Guard troops by Republican governors about protecting the border, or trying to reclaim the White House? You know the answer.

Ruben Navarrette column
Ruben Navarrette commentary
Tribune graphic

IMMIGRATION IMPASSE: It's America's great paradox. This is the land of im-migrants, and yet Americans have never liked immigrants. Today, we don't just have a broken border and a broken system. We also have a broken dis-course. It's no wonder we can't solve our immigration problem. We don't even know how to talk about it. When Americans look at the U.S.-Mexico border, or peek into the kitchens of their favorite restaurant, or come clean about who is doing the chores in their own homes, they see different realities. This series -- written by the grandson of a Mexican immigrant who has covered the issue for 30 years -- takes a clear, honest and unflinching look at why America's grand promise to take in the "huddled masses" and "wretched refuse" has been so difficult to keep.

SAN DIEGO — The Mt. Rushmore State is more than 1,300 miles away from the U.S-Mexico border.

Yet, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem seems to think that the road to the Oval Office runs through the Rio Grande. The Republican will soon deploy up to 50 National Guard troops to Texas to help secure the southern border. This week, Noem said she'll send another 125 troops in the coming months.

And, there's one more detour. To pay the freight for this political stunt, the South Dakotan is accepting a donation from a GOP mega-donor billionaire who doesn't even live in South Dakota but resides in Tennessee.


Does anyone else feel like they need a map of the United States just to keep track of this story?

Much of the blame for this chaotic state of affairs, involving multiple states, belongs to the GOP's "Alarmist-In-Chief": Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

It is Abbott who continues to irresponsibly characterize as an "invasion" the arrival at the border of thousands of desperate women, children and families escaping violence in Central America in search of refugee status and a fresh start in the United States.

And it is Abbott who recently issued a call to arms, asking his fellow Republican governors for law enforcement and National Guard reinforcements to bolster border security. Besides Noem, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Idaho Gov. Brad Little have also pledged to send troops to the border.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is taking a different tack by sending sworn peace officers — Ohio state troopers. So, if some of these would-be refugees steal a car and speed down a highway in Texas, DeWine has it covered.

Before long, the patchwork down on the border is going to look like a U.N. peacekeeping force. When do the Belgians arrive?

Besides, I thought that securing the border was what the more than 19,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents were paid to do.

In 30 years of writing about immigration, I've interviewed many of these agents firsthand. I've heard them ask for the construction of better roads along the border, the latest tunnel detection equipment, better electronic surveillance systems and more sophisticated technology.


Not once have I heard any of them ask for backup from state troopers or the National Guard. That's not what they want. That's what arrogant but know-nothing politicians tell them they need.

Nevertheless, like other likely 2024 Republican presidential hopefuls, Noem seems to be betting that a hardline stance in favor of border security will help catapult her to the top tier of GOP contenders.

The South Dakota governor doesn't know the first thing about the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. immigration policy or competing law enforcement jurisdictions. She thinks it's all about money. She assumes that the only reason that the concept of states meddling in the protection of an international border is controversial is the price tag.

Her solution was to rely on a private donor to foot the bill. The money for the troop deployment is coming from the Willis and Reba Johnson's Foundation, a Tennessee-based nonprofit that donates to various rightwing causes and conservative groups.

According to The Washington Post, Willis Johnson has donated to GOP campaigns for years, including those of former President Donald Trump.

Johnson told the newspaper that the money he is donating to South Dakota — which other media reports put at as much as $1 million — was "100%" meant to fund the deployment of the National Guard to the border. As he put it: "I want to protect America, and that's it."

Sorry. That's not it. There are reasons why Americans don't allow private citizens — even the wealthy ones — to commandeer law enforcement officers or National Guard troops to serve pet causes. There are ethical concerns, liability issues and jurisdictional conflicts. Is this even legal?

What happened to that song and dance Republicans like to perform about the rule of law? What became of the argument that Trump and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions put forth, in opposing California's status as a so-called "sanctuary state," about how states should leave immigration policy to the feds? And finally, if GOP governors like Noem are so gung-ho about battling illegal immigrants, why not crack down on employers who hire them, including those who fill the campaign coffers of Republicans?


Is this deployment of National Guard troops by Republican governors about protecting the border, or trying to reclaim the White House?

You know the answer. And so you also know why Americans never make any headway in untangling the immigration issue. Politics prevents it.

Ruben Navarrette can be reached at

© 2021 The Washington Post Writers Group

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