HOUSTON, TEXAS —
Texas Governor Rick Perry ordered his state’s National Guard commander to send 1,000 soldiers to the Texas border with Mexico to help cope with the recent influx of people from Central America seeking refugee status.
Perry said he took the extraordinary measure of activating some of the state's National Guard troops to help secure the border, where tens of thousands of immigrants from Central America, including some 50,000 children, have entered the United States in recent months.
"I will not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault and little children from Central America are detained in squalor. We are too good a country for that to occur,” he said. “That is why today I am using my authority as governor of Texas in activating the National Guard."
Perry was referring to initial reports of Border Patrol detention facilities becoming overcrowded, as agents struggled to keep up with the surge of people coming over the border and turning themselves in, seeking asylum.
The federal government has now established a large detention center in Arizona to accommodate some of the overflow and is processing many other immigrants and sending them to stay with family members around the country while they await their court hearing.
Perry said Border Patrol agents have been diverted from protecting the border to processing the influx of Central Americans, thereby giving lawbreakers more leeway.
"Drug cartels, human traffickers, individual criminals are exploiting this tragedy for their own criminal opportunities,” Perry said.
Perry noted that only about 20 percent of the people detained after crossing the border illegally are children.
He said the Texas National Guard troops would be "force multipliers" to assist U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as U.S. Custom and Border Protection agents in catching human traffickers and drug smugglers.
But there are many people who criticize Perry's action as unnecessary.
Cameron County, Texas Sheriff Omar Lucio (loo-SEE-oh), whose jurisdiction includes the border city of Brownsville, said Perry's announcement was done for political reasons.
Perry is expected to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
Wendy Davis, the Texas Democratic candidate for governor, called on Perry to send additional Sheriff's deputies from various other parts of the state to help local sheriffs at the border, rather than the National Guard.
Another skeptic is longtime U.S. Immigration Special Agent Hipolito Acosta, who is now retired. In a VOA interview done before Perry's announcement, Acosta commented on the governor's initial suggestion that he might deploy the National Guard.
"The National Guard cannot arrest illegal aliens, the National Guard cannot process illegal aliens, the National Guard cannot actually detain people smuggling drugs inside the United States, so, again, it is a lot of grandstanding," Acosta said.
But the deployment of the National Guard in Texas is popular among many conservatives in the state and on the national scene as well.
Some members of Congress say passage of President Barack Obama's request for $3.7 billion in emergency funds should hinge on this issue.
The National Guard provides the U.S. Defense system with reserve troops around the country that can be called to active duty as necessary.
Guard members in each state have civilian jobs and train on weekends. They also engage in special training exercises and deployments throughout the year.
Either the president or the governor of a state can call out the National Guard in emergencies, but when the governor of a state does so, the state pays the cost.
In this case, Texas will spend $12 million a month on the border operation, a bill state officials say they hope to pass on to the federal government since it has primary responsibility for immigration and border security.