U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger said Tuesday 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 on Tuesday 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 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 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 wasn'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 was no longer 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 & Border Patrol. He said Congress on both sides of the aisle agree on enhanced technology on the border, noting previous presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush utilized the National Guard for the same purposes. Kinzinger noted Trump's order of National Guard troops to the border is different than his troop's mission, because those troops were ordered to points of entry.
He said the National Guard alerts border patrols of possible drug smugglers, and they will take an ATV 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 is only used by a handful of units. The closest unit is in Madison, Wisconsin, which is why he serves with them.
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 cited his crew found and directed U.S. Customs & Border Patrol 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 this weekend 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, 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 passed 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.
When asked what's changed along the border, Kinzinger said he couldn't cite if there were more or less 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, to his recent mission in Arizona, was like "comparing apples and oranges," noting 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 say 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 say 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, in that, asylum seekers passing through Mexico should be stopping at points of entry there.