Gov. Rick Perr speaks at a news conference July 21. Perry announced he is deploying up to 1,000 National Guard troops over the next month to the Texas-Mexico border. (Eric Gay/ / The Associated Press)
A member of the National Guard checks on his colleague inside a Border Patrol skybox in 2011 near the Hidalgo International Bridge in Hidalgo, Texas. (The Associated Press)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has accused the federal government of failing to provide enough resources on the U.S.-Mexico border to stop the flow of undocumented immigrants, including more than 57,000 children who have illegally crossed into the U.S. from Central America since October.
After calling on President Obama to send 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border until more U.S. Border Patrol agents can be trained, Perry used his authority as governor to do precisely that. The Texas Army and Air National Guard will establish outposts from which they can alert law enforcement if they see people crossing the border.
The Guard troops will be armed, but only so they can defend themselves, according to Air Force Maj. Gen. John Nichols, adjutant general of the Texas National Guard. While there is no end date for the mission, the Guard is planning on it lasting for up to a year, depending on the situation on the ground.
In a July 28 interview with Military Times, Perry talked about what prompted him to mobilize the National Guard and what role states have policing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Q: Why is the flow of illegal immigrants across the border a national security issue?
There can be no national security without border security. As our very capable and brave men and women of the Border Patrol are pulled away from their law enforcement duties to give this humanitarian aid [to children], you have the drug cartels and the human traffickers and these individual criminals who are exploiting that situation for their own criminal opportunities. That’s the reason I used my executive authority as governor and activated the National Guard.
The Guard deployment is to support the Texas Department of Public Safety surge operations. We’ve been doing these surge operations for a number of years. This last surge, codenamed “Strong Safety” — I think it was about 30 days ago that we authorized $1.3 million a week over and above what we were already spending on augmenting border security. That surge is focused on combating crime and cartel activity that is a result of this unsecured border.
National guardsmen will be working side-by-side with the law enforcement and they can detain and then refer individuals to the appropriate civil authorities.
Q: Do you foresee any scenarios in which the National Guard detains illegal immigrants crossing the border?
Yeah, I think they will be used in that role. They don’t have the ability to arrest but they do have the ability to detain until the proper authorities do come along. One of the very important aspects of this is the visible presence of a uniformed force. We know it works, whether it’s in a neighborhood or whether it’s on a highway; whether it’s on the border. The uniformed presence has that strong deterrent effect.
Q: Is it possible that a confrontation between guardsmen and illegal immigrants could escalate into violence?
I think there’s always that possibility. I do have the ability to give the National Guard arrest authority, but that’s not part of the mission at this time. The Guard is going to be working directly with DPS [Texas Department of Public Safety] to deter and refer criminals. The guardsmen have been trained on how to deal with a multitude of different situations. I would suggest they are professionals; they know what they’re doing.
Q: Where does the role of the state governors end and the role of the federal government begin?
The federal government is required by the Constitution to secure the border. That’s an enumerated power. It is directed by the Constitution. They have failed in that responsibility. Over the years, I have called repeatedly on the federal government to live up to that responsibility to protect this nation by securing the border prior to Operation Strong Safety. Texans have already invested half a billion dollars in border security — and frankly, that is a burden that the Texas taxpayers should not have to be shouldering.
My bottom line is I couldn’t stand idly by while our citizens are under assault — and, for that matter, you have these little children from Central America who are being detained in squalor.
Q: Do you have any idea how long this mission will last?
I don’t know; but the other side of it is, if I did know, I still wouldn’t be telling the bad guys what our intentions were. We will be there as long as we need to keep the border secure. I hope the federal government will recognize their responsibility and make that commitment as well.