Faced with an uptick in children crossing the U.S.-border alone from several unstable Central American countries, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said Monday he will send 1,000 members of the National Guard to the border.
“I will not stand idly by,” Perry said in making the announcement. He told CNN, “the first thing you have to do is stop the flow [of migrants into the United States].” He also claimed border patrol agents would be distracted by kids crossing the border and would not be able to stop drug traffickers.
But other lawmakers are questioning what role the National Guard could play. The influx of unaccompanied children whose border crossing have been tallied are already being intercepted by border patrol agents, which is how they are later processed and sheltered in the United States during legal proceedings. The law requires that these minors be sheltered while they await legal determinations about whether they have an asylum claim because they are being persecuted in their home countries. And no volume of officials at the border will change the law that requires minors to be at least temporarily housed in the United States.
“The children fleeing violence in Central America are seeking out border patrol agents. They are not trying to evade them. Why send soldiers to confront these kids?” said Congressman Joaquín Castro (D-TX) told Politico, slamming Perry for militarizing a humanitarian situation. “Militarizing our border is the wrong response to the arrival of children.”
State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa also accused Perry of politicizing the issue without actually fixing the problem of an influx of kids fleeing violence. Sheriff Omar Luci, who oversees Cameron County near the border, also suggested Perry’s move was political. “I don’t know that it helps,” he told the Dallas Morning News. Some sheriffs near the border note that National Guard troops would not be authorized to detain people, and that funds would be better spent on more local deputies and equipment.
Even the head of the National Guard under George W. Bush said earlier this week that he has not yet heard a clear rationale for sending troops to the border. “I’m not sure we’ve clearly defined the question, and until that is done I am reluctant to tell you that the Guard is the answer,” H. Steven Blum told the Washington Post. “Merely sending the Guard to the border is not a panacea for the myriad complex problems of the current situation.”
Perry’s move could also run into constitutional problems. The Constitution’s Supremacy Clause prohibits states from interfering with areas of regulation that have been preempted by the federal government, and the U.S. Supreme Court has already invalidated provisions of state law that seek to legislate on immigration reform. Washington and Lee University law professor Margaret Hu told ThinkProgress this provision could suffer similar constitutional problems, particularly because it interferes with national security and Department of Homeland Security policies also.
Perry’s announcement comes several days after several House of Representatives members introduced a resolution calling on Perry and several other governors in border states to send National Guard troops to the border. The resolution “recognizes, supports, and defends the Constitutional authority” of these governors to send troops to the border, and “urges” them to immediately deploy troops. But this, too, raises constitutional flags.
The resolution also commits to covering the cost of the troops — estimated to be $5 million per week just in Texas. The state is already spending $1.3 million on a state-funded border surge.