Gov. Perry to send National Guard troops to Mexican border amid migrant crisis

Texas Gov. Rick Perry used his executive authority to activate up to 1,000 National Guard troops to help secure the Texas border region against "criminal alien" activity. (Reuters)

Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced plans Monday to send up to 1,000 of his state’s National Guard troops to the Mexican border within 30 days, saying that the Obama administration has not kept Texas secure.

Perry (R) said the troops will be integrated into a state law enforcement program called Operation Strong Safety, which is aimed at preventing criminal activity by Mexican drug cartels on the Texas side of the border. The move is necessary, he said, because the U.S. Border Patrol has been overwhelmed by a surge of unaccompanied minors who have entered the country illegally.

“I will not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault and little children from Central America are detained in squalor,” Perry said at a news conference in Austin.

The governor’s aides said the National Guard will work with state troopers at observation posts. The guardsmen will not be empowered to apprehend anyone but rather will help identify potential criminal activity and alert law enforcement officers.

Perry did not outline any role for them in dealing with the unaccompanied children at the border; more than 57,000 of them have been apprehended by federal agents since October. The Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for caring for the children.

Dangerous journeys taken by unaccompanied children

Illegal immigrants arrested by state troopers will be turned over to the Border Patrol, the governor’s aides said.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest suggested that Perry’s move is symbolic and urged him to offer public support for President Obama’s funding request. He chided the governor for not providing “the kinds of communication that you’d ordinarily see from a governor when they want to make a deployment like this.”

The White House “would hope that any additional resources that are added to the border would be integrated and coordinated with the significant ongoing efforts that are already in place,” Earnest said.

Perry’s announcement raised the stakes for the Obama administration, which has sought since late May to mount an emergency response to the burgeoning crisis. House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) and other Republicans have called on the president to dispatch National Guard troops, arguing that Obama’s border policies have been too weak and have contributed to the problem.

But White House officials have insisted that such a move is unnecessary because the children — as well as 55,000 parents with children who have been apprehended — are not evading capture. They are surrendering to patrol stations in hopes of being allowed to remain in the country.

Obama has called on Congress to approve $3.7 billion in emergency funding to provide shelter for the minors and speed up their deportation hearings.

Administration officials on Monday said the number of children apprehended on the border has fallen from a high of 355 per day last month to about 150 per day. On Friday, Obama will host the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to emphasize joint efforts to stem the flow.

Using National Guard troops along the U.S.-Mexico border is not unprecedented. In 2006, President George W. Bush activated 6,000 guardsmen for two years in several Southern border states to build security fences and operate surveillance equipment under a program called Operation Jump Start.

W. Ralph Basham, who served as commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection from 2006 to 2009, said the troops were a “huge asset” during that period. He cautioned, however, that their role must be sharply defined in conjunction with state law enforcement and federal authorities, so as to not add to the chaos.

“The National Guard was an interim resource as we were literally doubling the size of the Border Patrol,” said Basham, now a partner at Command Consulting Group, a national security firm in Washington. “Their mission really was as observers. They have no arrest authority.”

Bush worked with governors, who oversee National Guard troops in their respective states, to secure the additional help, and the federal government reimbursed the states for the costs. Because Perry’s deployment isn’t authorized by the federal government, state funding will pay for it.

Two Texas lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Sen. John Cornyn (R) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D), are proposing legislation that would reimburse the state.

Perry’s office has estimated the costs at $12 million per month.

“It’s our responsibility to act independently of the federal government if the federal government failed to do the job it’s required to do,” said Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R). “Washington has refused to control our border. I’m mad, and most Texans are mad.”

Perry, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, is set to leave office after this year. He is a likely contender for the 2016 GOP nomination and has sought to rehabilitate his national image. Over the weekend, in appearances in Iowa, he hinted that he might take unilateral action to address the border crisis.

However, GOP governors are in an uncomfortable situation regarding whether they will support federal efforts to care for the foreign children until they have their immigration court hearings.

Perry’s actions appeared to represent a pivot away from the needs of the children to focus on the question of border security and cartel-driven crime. Dewhurst even asserted that the news media were misrepresenting the nature of the crisis.

“The media would have you believe the whole crisis on the border is exclusively about unaccompanied children,” he said.

Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.

Karen Tumulty is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where she received the 2013 Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting.
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