Democrats ask Arkansas governor to rescind Guard from border

Caitlin O'Hara / AFP/ Getty Images

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Top Democrats in the Arkansas Legislature asked Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday to rescind the state’s National Guard deployment from the border with Mexico following the separation of children from families who cross the U.S. border illegally.

House Minority Leader Charles Blake and Senate Minority Leader Keith Ingram sent separate letters to Hutchinson, a Republican, that also ask the governor to allow the Arkansas National Guard’s top official to testify before a joint legislative committee regarding the deployment. A Guard spokesman says Arkansas has eight soldiers and two helicopters deployed in New Mexico to assist in aerial surveillance but they do not have any law enforcement responsibilities.

The Democrats sent the letter as President Donald Trump reversed course and signed an executive order ending the practice of separating migrant families at the border. The order aims to keep families together while they are in custody, expedite their cases, and ask the Department of Defense to help house families.

In the letters, the Democratic leaders say they support efforts to secure the nation’s borders.

“However, directing our military service members in actions which separate children, particularly infants and toddlers, from their parents is disrespectful to the Arkansas National Guard’s mission,” the lawmakers wrote in their letters. “Our brave men and women deserve leadership that honors both their sacrifice and our nation’s foundational values.”

Hutchinson, a former Homeland Security official in President George W. Bush’s administration, said he wasn’t rescinding the guard from the border. Hutchinson said the deployment is “excellent training and adds to our border security mission.”

“To equate this support for enhanced border security to abetting the separation of children from their parents is misguided,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “However, I have previously indicated my concerns regarding the separation of families as part of our enforcement at the border. Hopefully, the executive order signed today sets the correct balance between compassion for children and respect for the law.”

Earlier Wednesday, a Democratic state legislator running for a Republican-held U.S. House seat in central Arkansas opposed the use of the Little Rock Air Force Base as a facility to temporarily house migrant children separated from their families. A base spokeswoman said federal Health and Human Services officials planned to tour the base on Thursday. Hutchinson told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Wednesday that another site in the state is also being considered for housing immigrants, but declined to say where.

“As a parent, I cannot fathom needlessly separating a child from their mother or father, and I cannot support using the Little Rock Air Force Base to implement this shameful policy,” said state Rep. Clarke Tucker, who is challenging Republican Rep. French Hill in the 2nd District race.