Governor 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.
Mr. 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 (U.S.) a month. Texas Adjutant-General John Nichols said his troops would simply be "referring and deterring" immigrants and not detaining people – though Mr. 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,'" Mr. Nichols said.
More than 3,000 Border Patrol agents currently work in the region, and Mr. Perry has repeatedly asked President Barack 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.
Mr. Perry said the surge in immigrants has diverted resources away from law enforcement operating in the region. "As the men and women of the 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 opportunities," he said.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection didn't respond to a request for comment Monday.
As governor, Mr. Perry is commander in chief of Texas military forces unless those forces have already been mobilized by the White House. But if Mr. Perry deploys National Guard troops it is up to Texas to pay for them, while an order from Mr. Obama would mean Washington picks up the tab.
The announcement came just days before Mr. Obama plans to meet with the leaders of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador on Friday to discuss co-operation on the influx of child migrants from Central America.
"Gov. Perry has referred repeatedly to his desire to make a symbolic statement to the people of Central America that the border is closed," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, adding that "a much more powerful symbol would be the bipartisan passage of legislation that would actually make a historic investment in border security."
In a letter to Mr. Obama on June 20, Mr. Perry made several requests for help along the border, including National Guard troops, additional helicopters and giving troops "arrest powers to support Border Patrol operations."
It's not clear why Mr. 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.
President George W. Bush sent 6,000 National Guard troops to the border in 2006, and Mr. Obama eventually extended that deployment while ordering a second wave of National Guard forces to Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico in 2010. But the second round saw reduced numbers of troops, and most of their work was limited to air patrols in counter-narcotics operations.
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 with 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.
With reports from Reuters and Agence France-Presse