DALLAS Gov. Rick Perry said Monday he is deploying up to 1,000 National Guard troops over the next month to the Texas-Mexico border to combat criminals that Republican state leaders say are exploiting a surge of children and families entering the U.S. illegally.
Perry, a vocal critic of the White House's response to the border crisis and who is mulling a second presidential run in 2016 said the state has a responsibility to act after 'lip service' from the federal government.
He rejected suggestions that Texas was militarizing local communities by putting National Guard troops on the ground or that crime data along the border doesn't justify additional resources.
The deployment will cost Texas an estimated $12 million a month. Texas Adjutant General John Nichols said his troops would simply be 'referring and deterring' immigrants and not detaining people though Nichols said the National Guard could if asked.
'We think they'll come to us and say, 'Please take us to a Border Patrol station,'' Nichols said.
More than 3,000 Border Patrol agents currently work in the region, and Perry has repeatedly asked Obama to send the National Guard to the border. Much of the area has been overwhelmed in recent months by tens of thousands of unaccompanied children illegally entering the U.S.
'Frankly, I think the governor is using the children and unaccompanied minors as a political gimmick,' said Texas State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, a Democrat who represents El Paso. 'I don't think the state of Texas can afford to spend $12 million a month because of all the other needs that we have in education, health care, and economic development issues.'
U.S. Customs and Border Protection didn't respond to a request for comment Monday.
As governor, Perry is commander-in-chief of Texas military forces unless those forces have already been mobilized by the White House. But if Perry deploys National Guard troops, it is up to Texas to pay for them, while an order from the White House would mean Washington picks up the tab.
'Gov. Perry has referred repeatedly to his desire to make a symbolic statement to the people of Central America that the border is closed,' said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. 'And he thinks that the best way to do that is to send 1,000 National Guard troops to the border. 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.'
Earnest also said the White House hasn't received the kind of 'formal communication' with Perry's office that usually accompanies such deployments.
Perry announced last month that Texas would steer another $1.3 million each week to the Department of Public Safety to assist in border security through at least the end of the year. In a letter to Obama on June 20, Perry made several requests for help along the border, including 1,000 National Guard troops, additional helicopters and giving troops 'arrest powers to support Border Patrol operations until sufficient Border Patrol resources can be hired, trained and deployed to the border.'
It's not clear why Perry would need the Obama administration to authorize arrest powers, and the governor's office has not offered details ahead of the announcement. Texas law simply states that the governor can 'adopt rules and regulations governing enlistment, organization, administration' of the Texas State Guard.
Texas Sen. Wendy Davis, the Democratic nominee for Texas governor in this fall's election, said Texas 'must and will' act in response to the border crisis, but she did not believe National Guard troops are the answer.
'[W]e 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,' she said in a statement.
Davis' Republican opponent for governor, Attorney General Greg Abbott, issued a statement Monday supporting the use of National Guard personnel.
'This crisis is a public safety priority, and deploying the National Guard to the border is crucial to address the organized criminal activity by cartels and international gangs,' Abbott said. 'Texas will put boots on the ground to secure the border, but we will expect the federal government to foot the bill.'
In a White House letter to Perry on July 7, Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett laid out steps the administration was taking to deal with what the president had called an 'urgent humanitarian situation,' but did not mention the National Guard. Obama met with Perry two days later in Dallas, and the administration has worked with Mexico and other countries the immigrants are leaving to make it clear they will not be allowed to stay in the U.S.
On previous border deployments, National Guard soldiers have served in support roles administrative, intelligence gathering while the Border Patrol expanded its ranks. Some National Guard troops already participate in counter-drug operations on the border, though they don't have arrest powers.
Since October, more than 57,000 unaccompanied children and teenagers have entered the U.S. illegally more than double compared to the same period a year earlier. Most have been from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where rampant gang violence and intense poverty have driven tens of thousands of people outside their borders.
About 2,000 Central American children could be in North Texas.
'They keep insisting the only solution to deal with these children is soldiers and the National Guard,' said Fernando Garcia, director of the Border Network for Human Rights. 'For us, this is out of proportion and doesn't make any sense.'
Late Monday afternoon, several faith leaders were scheduled to meet at the Diocese of Dallas and talk about what legal assistance they can provide the children and laying out a game plan for when they arrive.
Catholic Charities of Dallas will also be on hand with the bishops to answer questions and clear up any confusion. The Catholic Charities is contracted by the federal government to offer such assistance.
Monday's meeting will also drum up additional ways residents can help with the border crisis.
Angela Kocherga reported from the WFAA Border Bureau in El Paso