Rick Perry and many of his GOP brethren support the idea of beefed up security along the Texas-Mexico border. Because the Obama administration has failed to act, Perry says, he must do it himself. On Monday, he ordered 1,000 National Guard troops to deploy along the border in something he is calling "Operation Strong Safety," a slogan his predecessor in the governor's mansion no doubt would have loved. What exactly is strong safety anyway?
While those who have been clamoring for a greater response to cross-border incursions by criminals, cartels and plain old immigrants are applauding Perry's response -- nevermind his sticking it to Obama approach -- most experts wonder if it will do much good given the vast size of the Texas border, and whether or not resources like the National Guard should be used to further what many believe is simply a political agenda.
But, the more interesting question is one of timing.
The reality is that immigrants and drug runners have been crossing the border in large numbers for years and years. There are even some studies that suggest the Canadian border is a much more substantial threat to national security, a common rallying cry by those who want to build a border fence and deploy security forces along the Mexican border.
In recent months, however, a flood of as many as 50,000 children have swelled along the border, most from Central America fleeing violence and oppression in their home countries. The call to deport them has come swiftly from the right despite the uncomfortable look of a bunch of starving kids being tossed into a plane and whisked back to a country where they may be killed or recruited into drug smuggling.
In Perry's announcement, he was careful to say this deployment was not about the children. "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 of a country," he said, adding that this move was to "combat the brutal Mexican drug cartels that are preying upon our communities."
Many of his cohorts have said similar things. Sen. Dan Patrick, the favorite to win the Lieutenant Governor spot this fall, spoke at a rally in Mission yesterday. "My No. 1 job is to protect your life, your family and your property," he said. "We as Republicans are not anti-immigrants. We are a nation of immigrants. We are not anti-Hispanic. We are not anti-anyone. We are just for law and order and not until we secure the border will Washington act."
Commissioner Todd Staples of the Texas Department of Agriculture chimed in as well. "This crisis is not just about unaccompanied children. We will absolutely ensure children are helped and not abused," he said in a press release, "However, any action in providing aid should not send a confusing message for others to follow their dangerous path." Note the delicate tip toeing around the issue of the aid to children. Denying services to poor kids is not a good look on anyone. And there is no doubt that protecting our borders should be a priority no matter what your political tendencies, but the decision to do this now, during a flood of innocents makes for some complicated tap dancing.
Ultimately, this comes down to money, like so many things, and Patrick, as usual, did not mince words, "When people cross the border it is increasing the cost of everything we do." Of course, Perry said in his news conference that the cost of maintaining a National Guard presence on the border will run about $12 million per month. It's all about protecting us from crime and crime is on the increase he says.
Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, disagrees. "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," he said in a release. "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."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
And then there are the numbers. There are currently 18,000 border patrol agents along the Mexican border with the U.S. Is adding 1,000 National Guard troops really going to do much of anything? Perry has recently advocated for sending troops back to Iraq to fight militant Islamic uprisings. Clearly, like his predecessor in Austin -- and he hopes in Washington, D.C. -- he is not averse to using troops to keep the peace, but the costs are often staggering as we saw with the Iraq War and the political fallout can be just as substantial.
For Perry, a guy who has made his name on being the typical yee-haw Texan with guns blazing and boots stompin', this move plays well with his constituents. No doubt it would make for a good rallying cry in a general election if he were running for governor again, but his sights are set a little higher, which is why he is being careful to say, repeatedly, the children are not the issue. Deporting impoverished tweens may go over in rural Texas, but if Perry really wants to make a run at the White House, he will need to convince people in other parts of the country this isn't more Bush-era politics. Perry, Patrick and others say it isn't about racism and it has nothing to do with the influx of immigrant children across the border.
Still, the governor chose now to send those troops.
Timing is everything.