BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Political reaction to Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to deploy 1,000 National Guard troops in the Rio Grande Valley has largely broken along political lines, with Republicans supportive and Democrats joining Valley community and business groups in opposition.

Perry said he wants the Guard to be a “force multiplier,” to partner with the Department of Pubic Safety’s border “surge” project, otherwise known as Operation Stronghold. The cost of the National Guard’s involvement is expected to be about $12 million a month.

Perry’s decision to activate the Guard comes in response to a large increase in unaccompanied immigrant children, mostly from Central America, crossing the Texas-Mexico border. The Central American countries from which children are escaping have some of the highest homicide rates in the world, where children face gang violence and rampant crime.

Here is the reaction of various elected officials and groups:

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville:

“One of the primary objections I have to the Cornyn-Cuellar border plan is its support for militarization of the southern border. I believe a more rational approach to the current unaccompanied child crisis would be to: (1) provide the needed resources and help to address cartel activity in Central America, Mexico and across the U.S.; (2) support Customs and Border Protection by providing the necessary funding to increase the number of agents and support personnel to process the influx of immigrants while allowing the agency to continue to accomplish their mission; and (3) provide funding to the immigrant court system to allow for speedier determinations pursuant to current law as to whether an undocumented immigrant should remain in this country or be sent back while protecting due process requirements of the U.S. Constitution.

“If Governor Perry is so eager to deploy the National Guard, he should do so by sending them to cities with the most crime, which are not along the border. Drug cartels are present in cities across the U.S. – and have been for many years. For example, the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Drug Threat Assessment of 2011 explained that Mexican-based TCOs (Transnational Criminal Organizations) were operating in more than 1,000 U.S. cities during 2009 and 2010. This problem is not just confined to the U.S.-Mexico border. Violent crime is much less prevalent in South Texas than other Texas cities. According to an analysis by CQ Press using data from the FBI on murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, and motor vehicle theft, the border towns of Brownsville and McAllen were safer than Midland, Bryan, Grand Prairie, College Station, Abilene, Mesquite, Austin, Pasadena, Tyler, Wichita Falls, Waco, Amarillo, Longview, Killeen, Lubbock, Odessa, Dallas, Beaumont, and Houston. Thus, sending the National Guard to a relatively safe region of the state, to combat a problem that impacts the entire state and nation – does not make sense.”

State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen:

“I oppose the calling up of the National Guard to be stationed along the border area. We do not need to militarize our border. We need more resources to hire more police officers, law enforcement, DPS troopers and Border Patrol. The people who are coming across the border are children and families. They are not armed and carry no weapons. The National Guard is trained to “search and destroy.” Law enforcement and peace officers are trained to “serve and protect.” This is a civil matter, not a military matter.

“This is a humanitarian issue and a situation that our local communities have been managing with the help of church groups, charities, and other local volunteers. This is a complex issue that needs to be resolved through immigration reform and working with Mexico and Central American countries to stop the flow of immigrants coming across our border. To call up the National Guard is a very simplistic approach to a complex problem.

“We have less crime in the Valley than we do in other major Texas cities. 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.

“We live in the Valley, we work in the Valley and we know what’s going on in the Valley. Yet, politicians come in and politicize the issue without offering solutions. Immigration is so politicized that we cannot have a rational discussion based on the merits and this is unfortunate.”

State Senator Eddie Lucio says he expects National Guard troops to offer critical humanitarian assistance to undocumented immigrants.
State Senator Eddie Lucio says he expects National Guard troops to offer critical humanitarian assistance to undocumented immigrants.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville:

“As I’ve stated in the past, our state must supplement the Border Surge with additional adequate resources to compassionately deal with detained migrants and to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need.

“Today, Governor Rick Perry exercised his authority as Texas’ Commander-in-Chief to deploy the National Guard. As different outlets have reported, past Governors have deployed the Guard for a variety of reasons.

“From the limited information provided in today’s press conference, up to 1,000 National Guard troops will be deployed over the next month in a supporting role to the state’s Border Surge led by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“The National Guard will support local and state law enforcement by providing air assets and ground personnel to “deter and refer” potential criminal activity.

“I pray every day that Washington will overcome the partisan division that prevents passage of common sense immigration legislation. The failure to address the compounding problems has led directly to our present crisis, and our distressed border communities cannot continue to shoulder the burden.

“Since the Guard will be inevitably deployed, I expect them to offer critical humanitarian assistance as part of their supporting role by providing essential resources (e.g., food and water), as well as medical aid. I further expect everyone to be treated with compassion and dignity.

“The Guard must exhibit the same compassionate care as demonstrated when providing mission delivery to our communities with Operation Lone Star. I pray we can cope with this crisis in the least intrusive and most humanitarian manner.

“If one life can be saved and if one heinous crime can be prevented then time will be the judge of this new phase of the Border Surge.

“It is my priority to ensure the safety of our citizens in the Valley, support the strained resources of our local law enforcement and protect the public health. Ultimately the safety and security of our families is of the utmost importance.”

Juanita Valdez-Cox, director of La Unión del Pueblo Entero:

“National Guard deployment is an affront to the dignity of the Rio Grande Valley.

“The child refugee crisis is not a border security issue. When children and family units coming to the border looking for safe ground are seeking out border agents, the amount of boots on the ground is irrelevant. Border security should be debated separately. Conflating the issue is an insult to our intelligence and obviously meant to rile up anti-immigrant nativists in the Republican voter base.

“Deploying the National Guard will raise the militarization of the border to a new level. Deploying troops trained in military operations to our communities does nothing to reduce crime because they are not trained in law enforcement. Sending troops to communities with some of the lowest crime rates in the state and nation sends the message to our region that Rick Perry sees us as nothing more than his political sandbox, here to use as he wishes.

“This will cost tax payers $12 million per month, yet we can’t find money for healthcare for poor families or funds for our schools. It is obvious that Governor Rick Perry cares more about his prospects of getting the 2016 Republican presidential nomination than the wellbeing of border communities.

“Somos frontera – no zona de guerra! We are the border, not a war zone.”

State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso:

“This is an abuse of power by the Governor for political gain in his ambitious quest for the presidency. The Governor is spreading misinformation regarding the safety of the border in order to justify the deployment of troops and the expenditure of scarce public resources. Further militarization of the border will harm border communities long into the future by portraying the border as insecure.

“Attempting to militarize the border with a surge of National Guard troops and DPS officers of this magnitude is an absurd reaction to a refugee crisis. The proposal by Governor Perry reeks of politics over policy with the undeniable consequence of further straining limited resources that are absolutely critical for transportation, infrastructure, and health care needs, especially in rural areas along the border.

“Let us not forget less than 20 years ago, in 1997, National Guard troops were sent to the border and that action resulted in the tragic death of 18 year-old Ezekiel Hernandez, Jr. National Guard troops have no knowledge or training about the people who live in this region and will serve no real purpose in a border area where migrant children are willingly turning themselves into Border Patrol.

“Militarizing the border isn’t going to solve the problems highlighted by the Governor. Neither will blindly spending millions of dollars without discernible accountability or metrics for success.

“This proposal sends the wrong message and perpetuates the myth that the Texas border region is a war zone, dangerous to visit, bad for business, and unhospitable to live. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our border communities have shown tremendous courage, generosity, and American spirit in addressing the unaccompanied minors fleeing the violence of Central America and seeking refuge in our country.

“The border region needs Texas leaders to support the needs of the border by coordinating with local law enforcement, public officials, public health leaders, and faith-based organizations to make sure they have the resources in place to deal with unique challenges placed on communities with this influx of children.”

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus:

“Most Texans believe this situation on our Southern border is first and foremost a humanitarian crisis that requires a global solution. Texas leaders must work in coordination with the federal government, in order to meet the needs of these refugees and responsibly address this extraordinary situation.

“If Gov. Perry wants to flex his muscles on this issue to impress Republican voters in Iowa, he should start by whipping the votes of the Texas Congressional leadership necessary to pass the $3.7 billion in federal emergency funding for the border that is already on the table, which includes nearly $433 million in increased border protection. Governor Perry is in a position to help secure this much needed funding. Now is the time to choose: Will you be a part of the problem or work towards a lasting solution for the people of Texas?

“Instead of deploying 1,000 National Guard troops to our Southern border using Texas taxpayer dollars, these funds would be better spent providing 1,000 new teachers in Texas classrooms or 1,000 new miles of road construction. In addition, if Texas taxpayers are going to foot the bill for additional resources, they are owed an explanation as to where the money is coming from.”

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio:

“Our Texas National Guard’s reputation is impeccable. The men and women of the Texas National Guard are trained to do many missions. But to strictly militarize the border won’t help us meet this unique humanitarian challenge. The people of the Rio Grande Valley have made that clear.

“As a sixth-generation Texan whose family has lived along the border, with extensive relationships with border law enforcement, faith and community leaders in the Rio Grande Valley for decades, I believe Governor Perry’s decision is the wrong way to go.

“Instead of ignoring local leaders and acting unilaterally, Washington D.C. and Austin should act responsibly. To keep Texans safe, we should support our local and state law enforcement and first responders with the resources that they request and need.”

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst:

“The federal government’s inability to reach consensus on immediate border security legislation or formulate a comprehensive plan of action is putting the lives of Texas citizens at risk. We will not to idly stand by while criminal elements take advantage of this humanitarian crisis.

“It’s not only our right, but our responsibility to act independently of the federal government in the absence of sufficient action by Washington. I am very confident in the ability of the Texas National Guard to work with the United States Border Patrol, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and local law enforcement officials to secure our border, combat crime and protect our citizens.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott:

“I applaud Governor Perry for providing the decisive leadership needed to address this crisis. Make no mistake: This is more than a border crisis – this is a national crisis affecting communities and taxpayers across the country. 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. Texas will put boots on the ground to secure the border, but we will expect the federal government to foot the bill.”

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus:

”As the costs associated with securing the border continue to escalate, the House will consider all options to address the Governor’s emergency declaration. 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.”

Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas:

“Since the beginning of this humanitarian crisis, elected and law-enforcement officials in the Rio Grande Valley have observed no increase in crime, which is not a surprise. These are children who are running into the arms of the Border Patrol agents. They aren’t sneaking in. They aren’t resisting arrest. They have come to escape the violence and crime in their own countries. Yet Governor Perry insists on needlessly further militarizing our border for what can only be interpreted as a political stunt.”