Perry: Border historically less secure

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said Thursday the Southern border is less secure today than at any time during the recent past. 

During a House Homeland Security field hearing in McAllen, Texas, Perry testified that the huge surge of child immigrants streaming over the border has sucked up border patrol resources, forcing agencies to deal with the humanitarian crisis and diverting them away from protecting national security. 

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He said a national security crisis is also forming because the surge is distracting from stopping drug cartels and possibly allowing people emigrating from countries with terrorist ties to slip through the cracks.   

“If we do not today clearly send the message you cannot come into the United States just because somebody is handing out a flyer, then this is only going to get worse,” he said. “And a humanitarian crisis will turn into a monumental tragedy for those children, and I will suggest to you, for citizens along this border.”

Perry again invited President Obama to tour the border on his trip to the state next week, saying the experience would make the president “realize this is bigger than politics.”

More than 52,000 child immigrants have been detained so far in this fiscal year, a more than 90 percent increase from all of last year. The children, who are crossing the Texas-Mexico border, are largely coming from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. 

The administration has blamed the rise on an increase in violence and crime in the region and misperceptions being spread about U.S. immigration policies.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), near the end of Perry's testimony, noted that his committee has passed a border security bill, and he urged House leaders to take it up. 

“I think if anything out of this crisis it demands that we put that bill on the floor and pass it,” he said in a call that was quickly echoed by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas).

Since 2009, Perry said he has been requesting 1,000 national guard members to be posted at the Texas-Mexico border until an extra 3,000 border patrol agents could be trained to deploy permanently. The current influx could have been prevented with extra resources, Perry said. 

Perry said he welcomes the $2 billion Obama is expected to request from Congress to deal with the surge. But he said he also has his list of demands apart from securing the border. 

He said all the detained immigrants should be medically screened before they are released to await deportation proceedings. He noted that one case of the H1N1 virus has already been detected and two others have potentially been identified. He also called for federal reimbursement of the $500 million Texas has spent to secure the border in the last decade, a responsibility of the federal government. 

Perry said it is not more humane to let the children stay in the United States because it will only encourage the next wave. Unless the administration makes a commitment to securing the border, he said, “it will be a deluge. And after El Salvador and Honduras, what is the next group of people that decide to come here?”

Any broader reform on comprehensive immigration reform will “fall on deaf ears” until things change, he said. 

Perry answered questions for a little more than two hours, sometimes sparring with fellow Texas lawmakers. 

Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) tried to push back on accusations that the Obama's policies and rhetoric have led to the increase. 

“Have you heard that there has been any suggestion by the Homeland Security secretary or the president to these countries in Latin America — who said you know, 'you can come in here'?” Green asked Perry. “ 'If you are a child, just come in and surrender to a border patrol agent.' ” I have not seen that.”

“I think it is a bit more nuanced, the messages,” Perry said. 

“President [George W.] Bush said we don't do nuance in Texas,” Green shot back to laughter. 

Perry said it is not a sufficient deterrent to detain illegal immigrants but then release them with a summons to return later for deportation hearings. 

“I don't think that is really nuanced to be real honest with you,” he said. “No, the president of the United States didn't stand up and say, come. I hope I never said that.”