ALICIA A. CALDWELL
McALLEN, Texas (AP) -- When Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced the deployment of up to 1,000 armed National Guard troops to the Mexican border he was speaking to voters in Iowa as much as Texas.
The one-time and possible future presidential candidate is in the waning months of his third and final term as governor. His visits to Iowa, including the weekend before his National Guard announcement, suggest he is considering another run for the Republican presidential nomination.
If Perry's call for troops to the border sounds familiar, that's because it's not new. In early 2009, as he was running for re-election, Perry urged then Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to deploy 1,000 troops along the border in Texas. At the time Perry was quick to note that his concerns focused on the growing violence from Mexico's warring drug cartels and the potential for a spillover into U.S. cities, including nearby El Paso.
Now, his worry is the arrival of more than 57,000 child immigrants, most of who are from Central America and crossing the border along a narrow corridor in the Rio Grande Valley. Perry had previously asked President Barack Obama to send National Guard troops to the border to help stem the flood of immigrants, and this week Perry deployed them under his own authority as governor.
"I will not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault and little children from Central America are detained in squalor," Perry said Monday.
The deployment will cost Texas an estimated $12 million per month. Texas Adjutant General John Nichols said the troops' top priority will be deterring illegal activity along the border and referring it to either state troopers or Border Patrol agents.
"If we find someone conducting illegal activities, smuggling, then DPS has arrest authority," Nichols said. "If they are coming into the country illegally then they'll refer them to CBP."
Under the federal Posse Comitatus Act, National Guard troops can enforce state laws while deployed under Perry's direction. But the soldiers will be able to do little more than call immigration authorities if they encounter immigrants who successfully cross the river into the United States.
The problem today is not immigrants crossing the border while trying to evade capture. Most of them caught in South Texas are surrendering to authorities. Border Patrol stations equipped to temporarily hold immigrants while they await processing have suddenly been clogged with children traveling alone.
Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, the top elected official in the border county that has been most impacted by the surge in immigrant children and families, said Tuesday that guardsmen could be spaced out all along the border and it wouldn't stop the women and children from stepping on U.S. soil and turning themselves in, Garcia said.
"It's good media, but beyond that it's not practical," said Garcia, a Democrat. "People who don't understand the situation are thinking it's a great deal."
In a letter to Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, Perry said he is deploying troops "because of continued federal inaction to secure the border. This is a crisis enabled by a porous border and worsened dramatically by President Obama's misguided policies, which you support."
Perry added the troops will also help address crime in Texas that he attributes to security conditions at the border.
Bob Dane, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington-based group that advocates for border security and lower legal immigration rates, said the troops will act as a "force multiplier" that will help discourage immigrants from trying to cross the border in the first place.
"It seems urgent, it seems fair," Dane said of Perry's decision.
The situation at the border has become a political crisis for Obama, who has been accused by Republicans of encouraging illegal immigration by creating a program to delay deportation for some young immigrants and implementing a series of prosecutorial discretion policies that have protected many others from facing removal.
The Senate last year passed a sweeping immigration bill that included a provision to add about 20,000 new Border Patrol agents, which would nearly double the agency for the second time in the last 10 years. House Republicans have insisted the first priority should be securing the border before other changes are made.
On Saturday night, Perry brought potential voters in Des Moines, Iowa to their feet when he said, "We know how to secure the border. If the federal government will not do its duty then I will suggest to you that the state of Texas will." Less than 48 hours later, he called out the National Guard.
Caldwell contributed to this report from Washington.
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