Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced Monday that he will be sending up to 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the state’s border with Mexico in an effort to stem the tide of what his administration says is a torrent of criminals entering the country.
Perry and other officials at a press conference in Austin said the problem at the border is not the thousands of undocumented children who have recently tried to seek safer living conditions in the U.S. but rather the drug trafficking and violence that has spilled over into Texas border towns. And the $12 million monthly bill for the National Guard deployment? Texas will send it to the federal government, which Perry has criticized for not doing enough to secure the border.
“These additional resources will help combat the brutal Mexican drug cartels that are preying on our communities,” Perry said at a press conference Monday, announcing “Operation Strong Safety.”
If Washington refuses to reimburse the Lone Star state for its trouble and time, Texas plans to “take legal action against the Obama administration,” he added.
As of Monday afternoon, the White House had not responded to the news. Perry and President Barack Obama met July 9 to discuss the need for enhanced security. After the meeting, Obama said he was open to the idea of putting National Guard troops along the border but said it should only be used as a temporary fix. Immigration reform, Obama said, could better address the problem for decades into the future.
Perry’s decision to send troops to the border comes as Obama has urged a skeptical Congress to allocate $3.7 billion to help cover the legal and humanitarian costs of a dramatic spike in the number of children crossing into the U.S. from violence-wracked parts of Central America. Many of the children have been unaccompanied.
In the eight months preceding June 15, about 50,000 children were apprehended while trying to enter the U.S. illegally.
The children have become the focus of a boiling immigration debate in the U.S., with some officials calling for the children to be deported without delay and others, including the United Nations, urging the U.S. to designate the children as refugees and grant them asylum. The administration has said that most of the children will eventually have to be sent back to their countries — Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua — where drug violence and poverty have prompted many to flee for the U.S.
Some of the children have already been repatriated.
Perry said the National Guard troops in Texas are being deployed to discourage people from crossing the Rio Grande, the river separating Texas from Mexico, but downplayed the suggestion that they were being sent specifically to address the issue of the unaccompanied children attempting to cross. Officials at the news conference described those crossings as a small fraction of the border crisis.
“The same thugs are using terror tactics in Mexico ... torturing and decapitating their victims,” Steven McCraw, director of Texas’ Department of Public Safety (DPS), said at the press conference.
“Texans have a right to live in their communities without fear of cartels.”
Despite fears of increased crime, various studies have suggested that immigration does not increase levels of crime.
Perry and members of his administration at the news conference criticized the Obama administration, saying that federal authorities have failed to fulfill their responsibility to keep undocumented migrants out of their state. Perry said that since 2008, migrants had been responsible for more than 640,000 crimes, including more than 3,000 murders in Texas alone.
The soldiers of the Texas National Guard who will go to the border won’t detain migrants but will instead refer them to civilian authorities, like DPS. The guards are authorized to provide medical aid and offer water to migrants, many of whom have spent long periods of time crossing inhospitable terrain.
National Guard helicopters already help the Border Patrol spot migrants at night, said Texas National Guard Maj. Gen John Nichols.
"It’s not in our Texas DNA to sit idly when we can be involved in solving a problem," Nichols said.
News of Perry's planned announcement brought condemnation from Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, a young and rising star in the Democratic Party, who accused Perry of attempting to "militarize" the border, a charge the Perry administration denied Monday.
“We should be sending the Red Cross to the border not the National Guard to deal with this humanitarian crisis,” Castro said in an email, as reported by Politico.
“The children fleeing violence in Central America are seeking out Border Patrol agents. They are not trying to evade them. Why send soldiers to confront these kids?”