Days after a short trip to Texas’ border with Mexico, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox is deploying members of the Utah National Guard and Utah Highway Patrol to the southern border, the governor’s office said on Friday. The deployment is expected to cost Utah taxpayers around $150,000.
“Open borders threaten our national security and if the president and Congress won’t solve the influx of people and drugs, states have to step up,” Cox said in a statement Friday morning. “Right now, Texas needs our help and we’re grateful to our National Guard members, state Troopers and their families for their willingness to serve and keep us safe.”
On Feb. 26, five guard members will deploy to the southern border for two weeks to conduct maintenance on military equipment, while five members of Utah’s state police who “specialized in drug investigations” will deploy for 30 days, the governor’s office said.
The deployment — which the governor’s office said comes as part of a mutual aid request from Texas — will cost taxpayers $150,000: $100,000 to deploy law enforcement for a month and $50,000 to send the troops to Texas for two weeks. The funding will come from, according to Cox, the Governor’s Office Emergency Fund, which is money Cox can use in an emergency without calling a special legislative session.
Lt. Col. Chris Kroeber, spokesperson for the Utah National Guard, said this is “nothing unusual for the Guard.”
“The National Guard is always ready to respond,” Kroeber told The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday. “It’s one of the challenges we face in our training is being ready to respond to our missions, both federal and state.”
The Utah Guard’s two-week mission to repair military equipment is “part of the bigger operation that’s going down there,” Kroeber said, adding that troops are happy to support where they can.
“So from our perspective, we’re excited that we can go — and there’s a big difference between doing something for real and then just training to do it,” he said.
During a news conference Friday, Senate President Stuart Adams said he’s very supportive of Cox’s decision.
“I don’t know if it’s enough or not,” he said. “So I think the governor did a really good job. I think he’s trying to balance it.”
House Speaker Mike Schultz said he is fully supportive of the governor’s decision.
“There’s options to send more, with the governor, and we can certainly look and send more,” the Republican said during a news conference Friday afternoon, adding that he thinks the governor started with the right number of 10 people from Utah.
“It shows that we’re there to support,” he said. “If there’s an additional ask from Governor [Greg] Abbott, I’m confident that Gov. Cox would consider it.”
The Tribune reached out to the Texas governor’s office to ask about the deployment of Utah forces to the southern border but did not receive a response.
Utah House Democratic leaders said Friday that they disagree with the governor’s decision and respectfully call for a reevaluation of the action.
“It’s imperative to emphasize that the portrayal of the humanitarian border crisis as solely marked by an influx of people and drugs is grossly misleading,” Democrats said in a statement.
Utah Rep. John Curtis has introduced a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives that, if passed by Congress, would direct the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to refund states for expenses “related to securing the southern international border.”
“Congress has the power of the purse, and we must support these states spending dollars to end this humanitarian crisis,” Curtis said in a news release. “It is enabling fentanyl trafficking that hurts Utahns.”
At an impromptu news conference on Sunday evening after returning from the Texas border, Cox said Congress and the President Joe Biden administration have “abdicated their responsibility” to secure the southern border.
“You can literally walk through downtown Salt Lake City and see the impacts of those drugs that are coming across the border with Mexico,” Cox said Sunday night.
On Monday, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall countered the governor’s claim, saying, “Our data doesn’t show any increase related to immigration changes at the border,” Mendenhall said. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said he found Cox’s comments “absolutely ridiculous.”
Salt Lake Tribune politics editor Jeff Parrott contributed to this story.