By Mike Lillis - 07/21/14 08:33 PM EDT
Heightening the partisan battle over immigration policy, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) announced Monday that he’ll soon deploy as many as 1,000 National Guard troops to help secure his state’s southern border.
Perry, among the most vocal critics of President Obama’s handling of the crisis, said the extra force is needed to deter the wave of people illegally crossing into the U.S., safeguard citizens from drug crime and protect taxpayers from the costs of managing the new arrivals.
Perry, a 2012 GOP presidential hopeful who’s eying another run in 2016, spared no criticism of federal policymakers for what he characterized as their “failure” to secure the border. The state, he said, is only acting to fill the breach.
But he emphasized that he expects Congress to reimburse the $12 million-per-month cost of the new Guard troops — as well as the $500 million the state has already spent on border security — in the future.
“It will be fully funded, and … at some point in time, the federal government will respect its constitutional requirement to secure the border and reimburse the state of Texas for the dollars we are expending now,” he said.
Democrats have criticized the Republicans’ focus on border security, arguing that bolstering enforcement efforts won’t remedy a situation where immigrants are arriving at the border in hopes of being detained.
“Militarizing our southern border is not the answer to addressing this Central American #RefugeeCrisis,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) tweeted Monday.
Perry flatly rejected such criticism, saying the National Guard troops will act only as a “force multiplier” to provide support for the other agencies already on the ground, including public health officials.
“This idea that somehow or another there’s a militarization going on, is frankly a little offensive to the folks of the National Guard who travel to the border on a regular basis to help,” he said.
Steven McCraw, head of Texas’s Department of Public Safety, said the extra troops are designed to prevent Mexican drug cartels from exploiting the crisis by sneaking across the border, while Border Patrol agents and other officials are preoccupied with the children and families.
“Right now the area of operation, the Rio Grande Valley, is the center of gravity for drug and human trafficking into Texas and throughout the nation,” McCraw said. “Denying these despicable thugs access to Texas will severely hinder their ability to wreak havoc.”
Perry’s move came as congressional lawmakers are jousting over who’s to blame for the surge in immigrants — tens of thousands of them unaccompanied children — who have crossed the Texas border in recent months.
Republicans contend the surge can be traced directly to President Obama’s policies, particularly a 2012 program allowing some illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children to remain and work without fear of deportation. The Republicans say the crisis is a reason not to pass immigration reform legislation, for fear of how Obama would implement it.
Democrats have a decidedly different take, noting that the 2012 deferred action program explicitly disqualifies all of the new arrivals. This crisis, they argue, highlights the broken system and the need for Congress to fix it.
The White House announced Monday that the number of unaccompanied minors arriving at the border is dropping, from 355 per day in June to 150 in early July, according to spokesman Josh Earnest.
Earnest said the reasons for the drop remain unclear, but he suggested the administration’s efforts “to work with Central American leaders to publicize the dangers of the journey” have contributed significantly.
Perry on Monday acknowledged the drop in the new arrivals, but he offered a different theory for the trend, saying it was a “clear indication” that local, state and federal law enforcement efforts are working.
Obama has asked Congress to approve $3.7 billion in emergency funding to address the border crisis, including $1.8 billion to provide “appropriate care” for the children and $1.1 billion to beef up security at the border.
Republicans have scoffed at the plan, however, with many saying the price tag is too high and others arguing that no emergency funding is needed at all.
House GOP leaders have created a working group to come up with policy recommendations to address the issue. That task force, led by Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), is expected to present its report to the full Republican conference during the group’s weekly meeting on Wednesday.