Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced plans Monday to deploy as many as 1,000 National Guard troops to the state's border with Mexico, faulting federal officials for "empty promises" in dealing with an influx of Central American children and families.
"There can be no national security without border security, and Texans have paid too high a price for the federal government's failure to secure our border," the Republican governor said during an Austin briefing with other state leaders.
Perry said the Guard will provide support over the next month to Operation Strong Safety, the state-funded border surge he declared last month. The state operation, which includes sending state troopers to the border to assist local law enforcement, costs $1.3 million a week; the combined operation will cost more than $17 million a month. It's unclear how it will be funded, Perry said.
Texas Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott, a fellow Republican campaigning for governor, had unsuccessfully requested $30 million in temporary border aid from the federal government and said it should pay for the new plan.
"Texans are willing to put boots on the ground. But we expect Washington to foot the bill," Abbott said.
The White House dismissed Perry's plans as an attempt to "generate headlines."
"Gov. Perry has referred repeatedly to his desire to make a symbolic statement to the people of Central America that the border is closed, and he thinks that the best way to do that is to send a thousand National Guard troops to the border," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. "It seems to me that a much more powerful symbol would be the bipartisan passage of legislation that would actually make a historic investment in border security and send an additional 20,000 personnel to the border."
Perry said the state's enforcement surge in the Rio Grande Valley has already deterred illegal immigration, with apprehensions down 36% overall during the last month. But it is unclear how much of that decrease can be attributed to a drop in child migrants.
The White House said the number of child migrants apprehended at the border decreased sharply the first two weeks of July to about 150 daily, down from an average of 355 in June, because of a variety of factors, including an expected seasonal dip.
The National Guard deployment comes amid growing resistance to the federal government's efforts to apprehend, shelter and process the influx of families and 57,000 unaccompanied children who crossed the border illegally during the last nine months — double the number last year. Most enter the country through the Rio Grande Valley.
Perry and other Republicans see stepped-up border security as the answer to the crisis, insisting the sharp increase in young migrants has tied up Border Patrol agents and left the region vulnerable to smugglers, human traffickers and Mexican drug cartels.
Immigrant advocates want to shift the focus from border security to immigration policies and the reasons immigrants flee: crime and poverty in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Perry said the National Guard troops would support state and local law enforcement officers on the border as a "force multiplier."
"If we were asked to, we could detain people," Texas Adjutant Gen. John Nichols said during the briefing. "But we're not planning on that. We're planning on referring and deterring."
A guard spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor, later clarified that troops will operate under the state Department of Public Safety's "umbrella" and "we will not exceed their authorities."
Texas state and local law enforcement officers cannot enforce federal immigration law, meaning they cannot detain people based solely on their immigration status. But they can refer those they suspect have entered the country illegally to the Border Patrol.
Guard troops have been working on the border for years, but it's rare for a governor to deploy them without collaboration with the federal government, said Tim Dunn, a sociology professor at Salisbury University who spent years teaching in Texas and wrote several books about militarization of the border.
Republican state leaders praised the deployment.
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, who has proposed bipartisan legislation with Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) to boost border security and expedite deportations, called Perry "a decisive leader" who "is acting to fill the leadership vacuum we've seen from President Obama during the crisis."
Cuellar, a Rio Grande Valley native, said he supported the deployment so long as it's for humanitarian reasons, not border security.
Other Democrats and some Texas border sheriffs warned against militarizing the border.
"We should be sending the Red Cross to the border, not the National Guard," tweeted U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio.
Terry Canales, a Democrat representing the Rio Grande Valley in the Texas House of Representatives, dismissed the deployment as a political ploy by Republican state leaders and a governor bent on another presidential run.
And state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat campaigning for governor, responded to Perry's announcement by calling for a different border surge: adding more sheriff's deputies to the region.
"If the federal government won't act, Texas must and will," Davis said. "However, we should be deploying additional deputy sheriffs to the border like local law enforcement is calling for."
Perry's administration did not consult with border sheriffs before making the announcement, and the group has not yet taken a position on the issue, said Don Reay, executive director of the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition, which represents 20 border sheriffs. Reay said he's not opposed to the deployment, but his group wants to know what role the Guard will play.