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Noem outlines ways South Dakota can address southern border crisis


Gov. Kristi Noem wants state lawmakers to know how she’s helping to address the southern border crisis from the northern plains.

The Republican governor requested a joint session of the legislature, after visiting the southern border last week. In a speech Wednesday, Noem outlined ways the state can respond to the influx of migrants in Texas.

Noem says the state can send personnel, equipment and supplies, like razor wire, down to Texas to help secure the southern border. That’s despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that paves the way for federal officials to remove the wire installed along the border with Mexico.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbot has invoked the so-called invasion clause, saying his state must act because the federal government is failing to stem the tide of migrants.

Noem said the state could send troops to Texas if such help is requested.

If that happens, Noem said she wants to understand the “rules of engagement.”

Noem also said legal steps could ensure the state maintains control of its national guard if troops are federalized.

“We’re in unprecedented times,” Noem said in an interview following her speech. “We’ve never had a situation where potentially a federal government would take control of our national guard and use it for a different purpose than we would.”

SDPB asked what she means by "rules of engagement."

“Right now, most of the time the soldiers at that border are facilitating people crossing the border. They need to be able to stop people, especially people that they know are dangerous and not allow these dangerous criminals to come into the country. They need to be able to turn them around.”

Noem has deployed the South Dakota National Guard three times. Those deployments cost the state about $2.2 million dollars. The state has been reimbursed for $1 million of that cost.

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SDPB's Lee Strubinger follows up with Gov. Kristi Noem after her speech before the joint legislative session.

Republican Rep. Will Mortenson said the governor painted a vivid portrait about what she saw at the border last week.

“There’s just a lot of humanity in this. We’re a nation of immigrants,” Mortenson said. “The plight of women and children who are at the border seeking a better life for themselves make your heart ache. But so do the stories of the drugs getting smuggled in by evil doers and what it’s doing particularly in Indian country and across our state.”

Mortenson, who is the House Majority leader, is one of several state lawmakers who toured the southern border last year.

Democratic State Sen. Reynold Nesiba said he shares Noem’s concern about the border.

The Senate Minority Leader said immigration and security are a problem, however he disagrees on the solution.

“Rather than take this confederate, state’s rights approach to this issue, what she should be doing is reaching out to our delegation. She should be encouraging U.S. Sen. John Thune, U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds and Rep.Dusty Johnson to be working with the president,” Nesiba said. “President Biden has been working hard on this for months, now, putting together a bipartisan group of Senators to come up with the toughest border security that perhaps we’ve ever had.”

However, Noem is echoing calls by former President Donald Trump to reject the package unless Republicans get everything they want.

Senators have negotiated for months on a bipartisan agreement to address the border crisis.

NPR reports U.S. Senate Republicans met Wednesday to discuss next steps, but the consensus coming out of the meeting focuses on seeing the details of the legislative package.

In a recent appearance on CNN, Noem said the package is a bad bill and should not become law.

After her speech, SDPB asked Noem if she’s seen the bill.

“I saw the original text of the bill—I don’t know if they’ve changed it in the last 24 hours—but I don’t like it,” Noem said. “It essentially codified illegal immigration. It said that up to a certain number—5,000 people per week—could come into this country illegally and then we could cap it. I don’t know why we would decide so many people could break the law, then decide the law matters.”

Noem said the number of migrants coming into the country has turned every state into a border state.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the United States of America is in a time of invasion – the invasion is coming over the southern border," Noem said in her speech. "The 50 states have a common enemy – that enemy is the Mexican drug cartels that are waging war against our nation. And the cartels are perpetrating violence in each of our states, even here in South Dakota.”

She said Pine Ridge and Rapid City are experiencing cartel activity.

“Murders are being committed by cartel members on the Pine Ridge reservation and in Rapid City, and a gang called the “Ghost Dancers” are affiliated with these cartels," Noem added. "They have been successful in recruiting tribal members to join their criminal activity.”

The book cover for Gov. Kristi Noem's new book, 'No Going Back' — the truth on what's wrong with American politics
The book cover for Gov. Kristi Noem's new book, 'No Going Back' — The truth on what's wrong with American politics and how we move America forward.

Ghost Dancers is a support club of the Bandidos Motorcycle Outlaw Club and has been in operation in South Dakota for a number of years.

Democratic Rep. Peri Pourier represents the legislative district that covers the Pine Ridge reservation. She said she understands the border is an important topic, but she takes issue with the governor’s characterization.

“What I don’t—and the Lakota people—do not understand and do not appreciate is her ability to use the most disadvantaged communities in South Dakota to further her national level ambitions," Pourier said.

When Noem began talking to lawmakers, her fundraising arm sent out a text message with a link to the speech video. The text included a link that urged people to donate to Noem’s federal political action committee, KRISTI PAC.

Some political observers consider Noem in the running for Trump’s vice-presidential pick. Her speech coincided with the announcement of her second book—”No Going Back.” It was announced by Trump on his own social media platform.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.