Gov. Lee orders 100 Tennessee National Guard troops to U.S.-Mexico border after migrant restrictions end

NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Lee announced Thursday he has authorized 100 Tennessee National Guard troops to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border following the expiration of pandemic-related restrictions aimed at protecting public health that had also discouraged migrants seeking to enter the country.

The Republican criticized the Biden administration and said the mission is to secure the southern U.S. border amid what Lee described as a national security crisis and surging drug crisis "being fueled by an open border."

"America continues to face an unprecedented border crisis that threatens our nation's security and the safety of Tennesseans," Lee said in a news release. "The federal government owes Americans a plan to secure our country, and in the meantime, states continue to answer this important call to service. I am again authorizing the Tennessee National Guard to help secure the southern border, and I commend these troops for providing critical support."

The announcement follows this past week's statement by Lee and fellow Republican governors and a border security briefing in Austin, Texas, on Monday. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, invited states to support his "Operation Lone Star" to secure the U.S. southern border following the end of Title 42.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on CNN's "State of the Union" on May 14 that the number of encounters along the U.S. southern border had dropped by half since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted the week before.

But Mayorkas also said it's too early to tell whether the migrant surge has peaked.

Tennessee National Guard members will deploy at the end of May to provide border support. Their duties include:

— Patrolling and providing additional security presence along the border.

— Assisting road and route clearance, barrier placement and debris removal.

— Staffing outpost operations.

"The men and women of the Tennessee National Guard are always ready to serve their country anywhere, anytime," said Brig. Gen. Warner Ross, Tennessee's adjutant general. "These troops are a capable contingent that will continue our long-standing tradition of responding to the call to aid our fellow Americans. The Tennessee National Guard is proud to serve and support our state partners in safeguarding the United States along the U.S. southern border."

In December 2021, Lee authorized 50 additional troops to respond to a surge in illegal crossings and drug-related activity along the U.S. southern border. Lee also visited more than 300 Tennesseans stationed at the border in July 2021.

Also in 2021, Lee said he planned to rebuff Biden administration efforts to house unaccompanied minors in Tennessee because the state was "very concerned about the human trafficking of children."

In 2022, the governor criticized the Biden administration's plans to move some detained migrants from a federal facility in Louisiana to Tennessee.

— Compiled by Andy Sher