Gov. Paul LePage’s office announced Wednesday that the Maine National Guard will deploy a helicopter to assist federal security officials along the country’s southern border.
The announcement came several hours after LePage told reporters that he was “absolutely” willing to send the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border — breaking with other Republican governors in New England who said they would withhold troops over the Trump administration’s policy of s eparating children from their migrant parents.
The announcement that Maine will send a helicopter and two pilots to Arizona comes amid turmoil over the Trump administration suddenly backing away from a facet of its so-called zero tolerance policy, which seeks to prosecute anyone who crosses the southern border illegally.
On Wednesday morning, the term-limited governor appeared to downplay concerns with the highly controversial policy — which has led border agents to separate more than 2,000 children from their parents — hours before the the president backed off it.
“This thing about separating children from their parents — that’s not what’s happening,” LePage told reporters following his talk at a chamber of commerce breakfast in Portland. “The problem with American law is you can put people in detention if they’re adults, but you can’t put children in detention. So that’s where there’s separation. The kids go one place and the adults go another.”
Trump signed an executive order ending the practice of family separation on Wednesday afternoon, reversing course under pressure from anxious allies after days of blistering controversy.
Within the hour, LePage’s office announced that it had approved a request to send the aircraft and pilots to aid U.S. Customs and Border Protection from July 1 to Sept. 30. “Maine is responsible for flying the [helicopter] and will not be involved in any law enforcement activities,” LePage’s press secretary, Julie Rabinowitz, said.
The planned deployment and LePage’s earlier comments, seeming to discount concerns over young, often Central American children being held in detention facilities separate from their parents, represent a break with other political leaders across New England.
Earlier this week, a group of governors from both parties, including the Republicans in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, said that they would recall or withhold National Guard troops from an effort to secure the border over the practice of separating families.
Since early May, more than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents along the border, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
On Monday, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, who is facing re-election in his largely blue state, called the practice “cruel and inhumane.” After having previously said he’d send two Guard troops and a helicopter, Baker reportedly said that he’s told them not to deploy.
In New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu, who is also seeking re-election, told WMUR radio on Tuesday that “I will not send our New Hampshire troops to the southern border to separate families.”
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, also a Republican, has consistently said he does not plan to send that state’s National Guard troops to assist with security on the southern border.
LePage did acknowledge Wednesday morning that “it’s a very difficult issue.”
“I think there’s a lot of politics going on down on the border right now,” he said.
Follow Jake Bleiberg on Twitter at: @JZBleiberg.
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