After what insiders say was a surprise announcement by President Donald Trump on Tuesday, the Colorado Springs command that could send U.S. troops to the Mexican border was waiting for guidance.
The U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) in Colorado Springs oversees U.S. military operations on the continent. The command on Tuesday knew Trump said he would send troops south to defend the border but had no information on how that might take place.
"We are standing by for guidance," a spokeswoman said.
Other sources said the command, led by Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson, didn't have notice of the presidential directive. That means troop movement would require hasty planning at the Peterson Air Force Base command.
But another source at the command said the move could be made by sidestepping the command.
"Nothing exists to tell us what is going to happen," said the source.
Trump said Tuesday that he had plans for "guarding our border with the military" until his proposed $25 billion border wall is built.
No details have been released on where the troops would deploy or how many would be used to seal the 1,964-mile border.
"We're going to be doing things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we're going to be guarding our border with the military," Trump said, calling the measure a "big step" that had rarely been done.
At a news conference later, Trump said he soon will meet with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to discuss deploying the military to the border.
"I think it is something we have to do," Trump said.
The move to use the military to push Trump's immigration policy could freeze inroads made by Northern Command in fostering a relationship with the Mexican military.
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox took to Twitter to object to Trump's move.
"To militarize the southern border is to provoke more hate and distance ... " Fox wrote. "Somebody has to talk some sense into him, he's elevating his hate towards Mexico causing a greater conflict."
After a speaking engagement Tuesday night in Colorado Springs, Fox elaborated, calling the push for border soldiers "the most stupid thing I have learned recently."
"... we can attain much better results by working with our wisdom, with our intelligence, with our partnership, Mexico and the United States. We can do much better than dividing and fighting with each other," Fox said.
This would not be NORTHCOM's first foray into border issues. In 2014, the command assisted after a flood of children from Latin America fled chaos in their homelands to illegally enter the U.S.
The command established camps for the children and sent U.S. advisers to help the Mexican military stop the flow.
But using the military to enforce immigration laws is a legally thorny proposition.
The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 forbids the use of active-duty military to enforce U.S. laws. That would limit Trump to using the National Guard, which has limited law-enforcement authority.
The Guard, though, falls under the authority of governors, who would need to sanction the president's proposal.
It's been done before. In 2006, President George W. Bush authorized the call-up of more than 32,000 Guard members to back the Border Patrol in its efforts to stem illegal immigration from Mexico.
That $1.2 billion, two-year program saw Guard members keep watch on the ground and in the air in Operation Jump Start. The Guard also provided logistic and administrative support to law enforcement.
Governors of New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and California signed off on Jump Start, authorizing the use of Guard forces. But during that mission, Guard troops let Border Patrol agents handle the law-enforcement work.
The Guard was lauded for its work, with more than 176,000 undocumented migrants captured during the mission. But the cost, nearly $7,000 for every immigrant caught, raised eyebrows in Congress.
That was the largest military mission on the Mexican border since the crisis of 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson sent more than 100,000 Guard troops to counter raids into border states by Mexican insurgents.
They joined Army forces, venturing 500 miles into Mexico in pursuit of insurgent leader Pancho Villa.
Trump's comments came a day after administration officials announced they were crafting a new legislative package aimed at closing immigration "loopholes," and Trump called on GOP lawmakers to immediately pass a border bill using the "Nuclear Option if necessary" to muscle it through, as part of a flurry of tweets on the subject over the past several days.
The president also has been declaring protections for so-called Dreamer immigrants "dead," accusing Democrats of allowing "open borders, drugs and crime" and warning Mexico to halt the passage of "caravans" of immigrants or risk U.S. abandonment of NAFTA.
The Associated Press and Washington Post contributed to this report.
©2018 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.