AUSTIN -- Flanked by his top lieutenants, Texas Gov. Rick Perry presented his case for ordering 1,000 Texas National Guard troops to the Rio Grande Valley over the next 30 days to address the flood of children being smuggled into Texas.
'As the brave men and women of our Border Patrol are pulled away from their law enforcement duties to give humanitarian aid, drug cartels, human traffickers, individual criminals are exploiting this tragedy for their own criminal opportunities,' Perry told media during a Monday conference at the Texas Capitol.
Joined by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R-TX), Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R-TX), Texas Adjutant General John Nichols and Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw, Perry painted a picture of lawlessness in the Rio Grande Valley. Perry claimed only 20 percent of those apprehended crossing the border illegally are children, and referred to a large chart showing 203,000 undocumented immigrants have been arrested and charged with more than 640,000 crimes since 2008.
'This includes more than 3,000 homicides and almost 8,000 sexual assaults,' said Perry. 'Thousands of lives have been impacted forever all because of the federal government's lip service and empty promises.'
'From April to June, that's a 3-month period, 8,496 criminal aliens were booked into Texas jails. That includes 35 homicides, 143 sexual assaults, 99 robberies, 321 burglaries,' said McCraw.
The charts provided by DPS don't indicate how many charges resulted in convictions, nor do they illustrate how the number of undocumented immigrants charged with crimes fits into the total number of charges filed during the data collection period. WFAA's sister station KVUE has requested DPS provide data that would put the numbers into context.
Meeting with President Barack Obama earlier this month, Perry requested the federal government pay for National Guard support under Title 32, U.S. Code. The request has thus far not been granted, and the State Active Duty mobilization ordered Monday will cost the state an estimated $12 million per month. The cost comes in addition to a $1.3 million per week DPS border surge operation ordered by Perry in June, bringing the state's total additional border security expenses to roughly $17.2 million per month.
For families crossing the border and immediately seeking out and surrendering to law enforcement, Maj. Gen. John Nichols says guard troops will be trained and ready to offer emergency aid. Nichols says the troops' primary role will be as 'force multipliers' for the surge, assisting DPS with reconnaissance on the ground and in the air. As a military force, the National Guard is limited in the role troops may fill assisting law enforcement, but troops acting under state command have more leeway than those operating under federal control.
'Technically speaking, if we were asked to, we could detain people, but we're not planning on that,' said Nichols. 'We're planning on referring and deterring. So deterring them with visible presence and referring any people that we see that we think are illegal immigrants to DPS.'
Yet officials in the Rio Grande Valley offer widely differing opinions on the amount of crime on the border.
'Local law enforcement, elected officials, and faith and community leaders in the Rio Grande Valley have expressed concerned about militarizing the border, the need to create a short-term humanitarian solution, and solving the long-term need for comprehensive immigration reform,' Texas Democratic Party communications director Emmanuel Garcia said in a statement Monday.
'Today, Governor Rick Perry ignored those voices. While those in the Valley are working hard to care for thousands of children in need and demanding we fix our broken immigration system, Governor Perry is continuing his routine of photo-op politics to further his Presidential aspirations,' said Garcia. 'We all respect the service of our Texas National Guard and we know that they can accomplish almost anything, but Perry's use of our guard to score political points is wrong. This is a time for humanitarian support.'
State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), who is challenging Abbott in the Nov. 4 gubernatorial election, reiterated her request for Gov. Perry to call a special session on the border crisis. Rather than sending National Guard troops, Davis urged directing additional deputy sheriffs to address the problem.
'If the federal government won't act, Texas must and will,' Davis said in a statement. 'However, we should be deploying additional deputy sheriffs to the border like local law enforcement is calling for rather than Texas National Guard units who aren't even authorized to make arrests.'
Meanwhile Abbott has requested state agencies to provide his office with information concerning the cost of dealing with undocumented immigrants. Prefacing his warning by stating he would rather quietly resolve the issue of federal funding, Abbott made clear in Monday's conference his office is ready to sue the Obama administration yet again.
'We must be prepared to take legal action if that is the course that is necessary,' said Abbott. 'Texans are willing to put the boots on the ground, but we expect Washington to foot the bill.'
While continuing to press for federal reimbursement, Perry promises the state will be able to find the increased funding for border operations. Leaders were vague Monday as to specifically which part of the budget that money could be diverted from, but a statement from Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) said House budget writers are looking the matter over.
'As the costs associated with securing the border continue to escalate, the House will consider all options to address the Governor's emergency declaration,' said Straus. 'Chairman Bonnen and the Committee on the Fiscal Impact of Border Security Operations will continue to monitor these costs and make recommendations in the coming weeks about how best to pay for them.'