HOUSTON — Governor Rick Perry said Monday he would send 1,000 National Guard troops to the border with Mexico to bolster security as the Border Patrol faces an influx of Central American immigrants.
At a news conference in Austin, Perry said that the border had been overwhelmed in recent months by tens of thousands of unaccompanied children entering the country illegally and that criminals are exploiting the situation for human and drug trafficking.
The decision came after Perry spent the weekend in northern Iowa, his fourth visit in eight months to that key state for political primaries, as he contemplates a second run for president. Nearly two weeks ago, Perry, one of the most vocal critics of the Obama administration’s handling of the border crisis, met with President Obama in Dallas to discuss border security.
Tens of thousands of Central Americans fleeing violence in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have attempted to cross the state’s 1,200-mile border with Mexico in recent months.
The influx of illegal immigrants, many of them children and teenagers unaccompanied by any parent or guardian, has left federal officials scrambling to find emergency shelters to house them and to manage what Obama has called a humanitarian crisis.
Perry, state law enforcement officials, and ranchers in the area have said that Mexican drug cartels and other criminal organizations were benefiting from the diversion of resources and so more security was needed.
Still, the precise role the National Guard troops will play on the border is unclear. Previously, Perry has said he wanted any National Guard deployment to use helicopters and have “arrest powers to support Border Patrol operations.”
The deployment will likely be used by both Republicans and Democrats as a new rallying point in the debate over immigration. Republicans have accused the Obama administration of failing to secure the border and helping to create the crisis with policies that encourage, rather than discourage, illegal immigration.
Other Republicans in Texas and Washington have called on Obama to deploy the National Guard to deal with the border crisis, but Perry could benefit from being viewed as the first to take action.
Democrats, including Texas lawmakers in the border region, immediately lined up in opposition to the deployment plan, calling it an attempt to score political points and to militarize the border.
“These military don’t need to be around families and children,” said Jennifer Saenz, a spokeswoman for state Senator Juan Hinojosa, a Democrat who represents the area.
Last month, Perry directed the Texas Department of Public Safety, the state’s top law enforcement agency, to begin “surge operations” to combat crime at the border.
The surge, which costs the state about $1.3 million per week and includes increased aircraft and maritime patrols, will continue at least until the end of the year and is being conducted, Perry and other Texas Republican leaders said in a prepared statement, “in the absence of adequate federal resources to secure the border.”
Days after announcing the surge, Perry sent the president a letter on June 20 criticizing “our porous border” and calling on him to deploy 1,000 National Guard troops to the border and direct the Federal Aviation Administration to allow the troops to use Predator drones to combat human and drug smuggling.
Perry’s criticisms played a role in getting Obama to agree to meet with him in Dallas, coming after the governor turned down what he called “a quick handshake on the tarmac” with the president, requesting a more “substantive meeting.”
Attempting to build support and momentum as he considers entering the 2016 Republican presidential race again after his disastrous campaign in 2012, Perry told a group of Iowa veterans on Sunday that if Obama failed to send troops to the border, Texas leaders would do so under their own authority.
“We’ve sent the message that if we don’t get the satisfaction that the federal government’s going to move and move quickly, then the state of Texas will in fact fill that void,” Perry said Sunday in the Iowa town of Clear Lake, according to the Des Moines Register.
In a separate development Monday, the White House said the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border is dropping significantly, the Associated Press reported.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said a daily average of about 150 children were apprehended along the Rio Grande border in the first two weeks of July. He says that is down from an average of 355 per day in June.
The president also plans to meet Friday with the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, the three countries that are home to many of the children.