Gianforte Declares Disaster, Will Send Montana National Guard Soldiers to Texas

Gianforte blamed President Joe Biden for illegal immigration and for the rise in fentanyl seen nationwide

By Blair Miller, Daily Montanan
Gov. Greg Gianforte speaks at the Old Courthouse in Kalispell for bill signing event on June 9, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte will send 10 active-duty Montana National Guard soldiers to Texas for a month to help maintain vehicles, he announced Tuesday, declaring a disaster exists at the southern border that requires Montana’s help.

The soldiers are being sent to Texas to participate in Gov. Greg Abbott’s “Operation Lone Star,” in which the Republican governor deployed the Texas National Guard and Department of Public Safety to try and stem illegal border crossings after the Biden administration took office.

Gianforte said the Montana soldiers are all volunteers who will be in Texas from April 8 until May 12. In a statement, Gianforte, also a Republican, blamed President Joe Biden for illegal immigration and for the rise in fentanyl seen nationwide.

“While he refuses to do his job, Republican governors are stepping up to do it for him,” Gianforte said in a statement.

Gianforte and a dozen other Republican governors went to Texas to meet with Abbott in February and discuss how they could help Abbott’s efforts, which include taking private donations to try to build a wall along the border and shipping migrants to cities typically run by Democrats, which has overwhelmed immigrant services and city budgets in places like Denver.

Abbott had previously asked other states to help the effort with National guard support.

The Montana State News Bureau reported in February that Montana National Guard soldiers quietly helped with a U.S. Customs and Border Protection mission to combat drugs and crime in 2023.

Gianforte’s disaster declaration signed Tuesday points to increased arrests of undocumented immigrants in December 2023; Border Patrol encounters; increased fentanyl seizures at the border and interior of the country; and a spike of human trafficking arrests in Montana as reasons for the declaration.

It says Montana “has an obligation to its people and all Americans to defend our national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and public safety and that “a disaster exists, warranting the State of Montana’s support to the State of Texas.”

In February, Biden and members from both parties in the U.S. Senate reached an $118 billion bipartisan border security package that received support from the Border Patrol union. But Senate Republicans killed the effort over strong pushback from Republicans in the House of Representatives that any of the money was linked to funding for Ukraine’s fight against Russia, as well as opposition from former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president this year.

Weeks later, during his State of the Union address, Biden pushed Republicans to pass the border bill as they blamed him for an undocumented immigrant allegedly killing a college student in Georgia: “We can fight about the border, or we can fix it. I’m ready to fix it. Send me the border bill now,” the president said.

But the southern border, even in Montana, is already a top talking point for many Republicans running for office this year. Several congressional candidates have already visited the border in the past few months to create videos, and four Republican Montana legislators recently visited the border along with lawmakers from other states.

On Wednesday, a federal appeals court in New Orleans will hear Texas’ arguments as it tries to overturn a preliminary injunction blocking Texas’ Senate Bill 4, in which a judge said the new Texas law that allows the state to detain and deport immigrants overstepped federal immigration powers.

Adjutant General for Montana, Major General J. Peter Hronek, said in a statement the Montana National guard is “always ready to respond to requests for support from our fellow states.”

“In recent years we have provided support outside our state in response to hurricanes, flooding and fires, and on this mission we will be supporting Texas in their ongoing border mission.”

This story originally appeared in the Daily Montanan, which can be found online at dailymontanan.com.