A decision by the White House to reduce the number of National Guard troops on the country’s border with Mexico has provoked a fierce but expected reaction from Gov. Rick Perry, a longtime advocate for more boots on the ground in Texas.
The Obama administration's proposal, first reported by the Houston Chronicle, would free up funding and shift the emphasis from personnel on the ground to aerial surveillance procedures, the newspaper reported. There are currently about 1,200 National Guard soldiers on the border, about 250 of whom are operating in Texas.
Perry, who has long requested a total of 1,000 National Guard troops for the Texas-Mexico border alone, in a statement called the proposal further proof that President Obama “has no intention to truly secure the border or listen to the American citizens, communities and law enforcement who care about border security and public safety."
“After spending billions on failed federal stimulus and bolstering job-killing regulatory agencies in Washington, President Obama now says he can’t find the funds to maintain even current National Guard troop levels to protect us against crime at the border,” Perry said.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, whose district includes a large swath of the Texas-Mexico border where National Guard troops were dispatched in 2007, applauded the president’s decision as a cost-saving measure that would shore up the public’s confidence that tax dollars are being spent wisely.
“I think the bottom line is that we all want to see border security, but it’s going to cost money,” he said. “Anybody that just talks about rhetoric and doesn’t talk about how we are going to pay for it, that’s easy to do.”
Cuellar, the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, said the public is getting “more bang for the dollar” if troops are used for intelligence gathering, surveillance and aviation instead of sitting “behind a desk.” Current National Guard troops are prohibited from performing immigration and other law enforcement operations.
Cuellar cited a September 2011 report from the Government Accountability Office to bolster his claim that the money could be better spent.
National Guard troops "require twice as many personnel as the Border Patrol to perform only the identification segment of the mission because they are not permitted to make arrests or seizures,” the report states. Current National Guard troops effectively act as lookouts — they relay information about potential illegal crossers to the U.S. Border Patrol and leave that agency to take action — at a cost of $1.35 billion for two operations since June 2006.
Perry also lashed out at the timing, saying recent mistakes by the federal government make the proposal even more absurd.
“This decision is all the more appalling given the actions of Attorney General Eric Holder, who let thousands of guns fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels through the botched Fast and Furious program,” he said, referring to the infamous gun-walking scandal. “We need more, not fewer, boots on the ground, as well as strategic fencing, surveillance technology, air and marine resources, working in coordination to truly secure the border.”
The governor also said the 1,000 troops in Texas are necessary until the U.S. Border Patrol reaches adequate staffing levels, though he hasn't said what he thinks that threshold is. Currently there are more than 21,440 agents — the most Border Patrol has ever employed — including about 18,500 on the southwestern border, 2,240 on the northern border and about 230 in the coastal border sectors.