By Manny Fernandez and Michael D. Shear on July 21, 2014
AUSTIN, Tex. — Gov. Rick Perry of Texas on Monday ordered 1,000 National Guard troops to the border with Mexico, seizing on a get-tough immigration message that foreshadows the approach to the current crisis by his party in Congress and that could position him in another bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
Mr. Perry announced the move at the Texas Capitol, but many of the intended recipients were far away from here: members of Congress in Washington, including those who are fighting with President Obama; potential migrants in Central America who are contemplating a dangerous journey to the United States; and presidential caucus voters in Iowa, where Mr. Perry visited again over the weekend.
Tens of thousands of Central Americans fleeing violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have tried to cross Texas’ 1,200-mile border with Mexico in recent months. The influx of immigrants entering the country illegally, many of them unaccompanied children and teenagers, has left federal officials scrambling to find emergency shelters to house them and to manage what President Obama has called a humanitarian crisis.
Mr. Perry and other state officials said Monday that the National Guard would begin mobilizing throughout the next 30 days, conduct ground and air operations once at the border, and partner with local and state law enforcement officials, acting as a so-called force multiplier.
He said criminal organizations were benefiting from the diversion of resources to deal with the wave of Central American immigration, and so more security was needed. The cost of deploying the National Guard was estimated at $12 million a month, a bill that he and other Texas Republicans vowed to send to the federal government.
“Drug cartels, human traffickers and individual criminals are exploiting this tragedy for their own criminal opportunities,” Mr. Perry said, adding, “I will not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault, and little children from Central America are detained in squalor.”
His action reflected a debate on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are considering the president’s request for $3.7 billion to add resources along the border to respond to the arrival of the Central American migrants. Republicans have argued that the crisis was of Mr. Obama’s own making. They have also floated the idea that an increased National Guard presence at the border would be part of any legislation they approved.
Speaker John A. Boehner has repeatedly urged Mr. Obama to deploy the National Guard to the Texas-Mexico border. “The National Guard is uniquely qualified to respond to such humanitarian crises,” he wrote in a letter to the president last month.
Mr. Perry’s response to the crisis is also intended for the audience in Texas, where border issues have long been central to state politics.
Greg Abbott, the state attorney general and Republican candidate to replace Mr. Perry next year, appeared with the governor and said his office was prepared to fight the federal government in court to defend the governor’s activation of the National Guard.
Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor, on Monday repeated her call for Mr. Perry to open an emergency session of the State Legislature to consider sending additional sheriff’s deputies to the border instead of National Guard troops.
“If the federal government won’t act, Texas must and will,” Ms. Davis said in a statement.
After 13 years as governor, Mr. Perry is contemplating another run for the presidency in 2016, and he has sought to raise his national profile. His weekend trip to Iowa, the site of the nation’s first presidential contest, was his fourth in eight months. And he used a meeting nearly two weeks ago with Mr. Obama to demand more action from the federal government to confront the surge of migrants.
By seeking more military resources at the border, Mr. Perry may also be trying to repair his standing among some conservatives who had expressed doubts about his willingness to be tough on immigration. During a Republican presidential debate in 2012, the Texas governor defended in-state tuition for immigrants in the country illegally and said of those who disagreed: “I don’t think you have a heart.”
That comment earned Mr. Perry scorn among some Republican primary voters. But it also represented what might have turned into a strength in a general election contest for the White House: his ability to attract Hispanic voters. Many analysts argue that if Republicans do not figure out how to attract more Hispanic voters, the party will not recapture the Oval Office.
Nonetheless, a Republican House working group is expected to make a series of recommendations to Congress next week and is likely to advise sending in National Guard troops. “What they would do would be augment what the Border Patrol is doing right now,” said Representative Matt Salmon, Republican of Arizona, a member of the group. “Basically it’s boots on the ground.”
Obama administration officials initially resisted the idea of more National Guard troops. At a July 10 Senate hearing, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the National Guard was “hugely expensive” and should be used only with “a clear plan and a clear objective.” He noted that most migrants in the recent surge were coming across a 300-mile stretch of Texas border and many were children and families who were turning themselves in, not seeking to evade border agents.
When Mr. Obama met with Mr. Perry this month, he said the National Guard would be only a “temporary solution” to the crisis. But he said the White House would be “happy to consider it” as a condition of approving the request for more resources.
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said Monday it was clear Mr. Perry wanted to send a message by doing something symbolic. But, Mr. Earnest added, “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.”
Democrats in Washington have been unified on the need for an immigration overhaul that provides a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants in the country illegally. But the party is divided about how to respond to the flood of unaccompanied minors.
In contrast to Mr. Obama’s call for more resources, some Democrats have urged the government to be more welcoming to children fleeing rape and murder. In remarks on the Senate floor on Monday, Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, dismissed calls for more border troops.
“Regardless of what the American people may hear from the Republican critics, this isn’t an issue of bigger walls or more barbed wire, or more drones, or more helicopters, or even the Texas National Guard,” he said.
In Texas, Democrats called Mr. Perry’s plan an attempt to score political points and to create an oppressive military atmosphere along the border. “If we were to use crime as a basis to deploy the National Guard, then we should be sending the National Guard to other metropolitan areas in our state,” said State Senator Juan Hinojosa, who represents the Rio Grande Valley.
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