U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger said Tuesday that he believes the National Guard’s technology plays a critical role on the border with Mexico, disagreeing with the Wisconsin governor’s withdrawal of troops.
Kinzinger, a lieutenant colonel with the Wisconsin Air National Guard, also told Shaw Media that he’s comfortable with President Donald Trump declaring a national emergency to secure $8 billion for a border wall – a number he’s skeptical will be completely spent.
Kinzinger is a Channahon Republican whose 16th Congressional District includes LaSalle, Bureau, Lee and Ogle counties, along with parts of Will and DeKalb counties. He made headlines Monday after he criticized Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Twitter for Evers’ decision to withdraw Wisconsin National Guard troops from the border.
Evers said he was looking into whether Kinzinger, who recently completed a mission to the southern border, could face discipline for those comments. Wisconsin statutes state that any commissioned officer who uses “contemptuous words against the president, the vice president, members of Congress, the secretary of defense, the secretary of a military department, the secretary of homeland security or the governor or legislature of the state of Wisconsin shall be punished as a court martial may direct.”
Kinzinger said he isn’t concerned about a punishment because he was not on paid status at the time of his comments. He said he has not had any contact with the Wisconsin governor or National Guard except regular paperwork Monday saying he no longer was on duty.
“I know the rules,” Kinzinger said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I have every right to be critical of the governor or president when I’m not on status.”
Kinzinger said he believes Evers, who is a Democrat, was trying to change the message.
Kinzinger said the National Guard is pivotal on the border because of its surveillance technology, most of which is not available to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He said Congress on both sides of the aisle agrees on enhanced technology on the border, noting previous Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush used the National Guard for the same purposes. Kinzinger noted that Trump’s order of National Guard troops to the border is different from his troop’s mission because those troops were ordered to points of entry.
He said the National Guard alerts border protection agents of possible drug smugglers, and they will take an all-terrain vehicle or horse to the area. As to why an Illinois congressman flies in the Wisconsin National Guard, Kinzinger flies the RC-26B reconnaissance surveillance plane, which only is used by a handful of units. The closest unit is in Madison, Wisconsin, which is why he serves with it.
In his Twitter comments, Kinzinger said his crew captured a few individuals, referred to as “coyotes,” who charge desperate migrants hefty sums to guide them to the border. He said these individuals “commit assaults, rapes and murders to these vulnerable individuals.”
Kinzinger said he rescued a dying woman from the desert. He also said his crew found and directed U.S. Customs and Border Protection to a man crossing the border with 70 pounds of meth.
“Had we not been there, that deadly drug would be on the streets,” Kinzinger tweeted Monday.
“@GovEvers, your guardsmen saved many lives and protected our country on this mission. Did you go visit them on the border to see for yourself? Or did you make your decision based solely on politics?” Kinzinger continued to tweet Monday.
He added: “I’m grateful to my fellow Wisconsin Guard members, and I’m deeply disappointed you won’t let them do what they are trained to do for the good of the country. @GovEvers, I hope you’ll reconsider.”
Monday’s tweets followed the congressman’s comments on Facebook last weekend that he’s never seen the U.S.-Mexico border “this bad” in his previous trips with the Wisconsin Air National Guard.
Kinzinger said before his trip to the border that he was neutral on the idea of a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. His experience strengthened his belief in stronger border security. He believes the presidential emergency declaration resolution was meant to focus on drugs and trafficking.
“It is the right thing to do, and I’m comfortable with that,” Kinzinger said. “Now, can we look back and say, ‘Should Congress have passed this law in the first place?’ That’s something we can come back to.”
The House adopted a resolution Monday to block Trump’s national emergency declaration, sending it to the Senate, where there were enough GOP defections to edge it to the cusp of passage, according to The Associated Press. Trump is expected to veto the measure.
When asked what’s changed along the border, Kinzinger said he couldn’t cite whether there were more or fewer immigrants crossing illegally, saying his position was based on vignettes from his recent experience.
He said comparing his previous missions, which were in remote areas of Texas, with his recent mission in Arizona was like “comparing apples and oranges,” noting that he witnessed a heavier drug-trading area this time.
“For anyone hell-bent on believing otherwise, despite the prevailing evidence, I wish you could see what my squadron and I did: cartels bringing tons of deadly drugs into our country; human traffickers smuggling innocent people, sometimes abandoning them in the desert (we saved a woman who had been left to die); and countless other breaches at the weakest points on our border,” Kinzinger said in the weekend Facebook post. “It’s a nightmare down there.”
Immigration advocates have said U.S. officials have worsened the situation at the border by limiting the number of migrants who can seek asylum at legal ports of entry. They said that’s pushing a growing number of migrant families to cross illegally in more remote areas of Arizona and New Mexico, miles from the nearest food, water and medical care, according to an NPR report.
Kinzinger said he still believes most seeking asylum are going to ports of entry. He believes asylum law is broken because asylum-seekers passing through Mexico should be stopping at points of entry there.