White House: Fewer kids arrive unaccompanied
WASHINGTON — The number of children arriving at the border unaccompanied has dropped sharply so far this month, according to preliminary data released by the White House.
The number of unaccompanied minors picked up by Border Patrol agents in the first two weeks of July fell to about 150 per day, down from an average of 355 per day in June, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday.
Earnest said White House officials believe the decline in the number of young migrants was the result of several factors, including a typical seasonal drop in border crossing during harsh summer conditions.
“We do believe that the administration’s response and efforts to work with Central American leaders to publicize the dangers of the journey and reinforce that apprehended migrants are ultimately returned to their home countries, in keeping with the law, as well as seasonal flows, have all played a part,” he said.
Earnest also said that as of Monday afternoon, the White House had not formally received notice from Texas officials of Gov. Rick Perry’s effort to send Texas National Guard forces to the border region.
The move was expected to be a topic of conversation at a meeting of the president’s Homeland Security Council later in the day, Earnest said.
The White House dismissed Perry’s plans as an attempt to “generate headlines.”
Government officials have said they believe the vast majority of unaccompanied minors are already being picked up by Border Patrol agents, so sending more security forces to the border would accomplish little.
“Gov. Perry has referred repeatedly to his desire to make a symbolic statement to the people of Central America that the border is closed, and he thinks that the best way to do that is to send a thousand National Guard troops to the border,” Earnest said.
“It seems to me that a much more powerful symbol would be the bipartisan passage of legislation that would actually make a historic investment in border security and send an additional 20,000 personnel to the border.”
— Kathleen Hennessey, McClatchy-Tribune
AUSTIN, Texas — Leaders along the Texas border with Mexico slammed Gov. Rick Perry’s move Monday to send 1,000 National Guard troops to South Texas, saying overwhelmed counties need law enforcement and charitabile aid, not militarization.
Perry portrayed his decision as necessary to help U.S. Border Patrol agents overwhelmed by a stream of 57,000 unaccompanied children from Central America. With border security spread thin and distracted, drug cartels and human traffickers might push into a state where their crimes already have taken a toll, he said.
“Thousands of lives have been impacted forever. All because of the federal government’s lip service and empty promises,” Perry said.
Joined by top state officials, he displayed a chart showing people in the country illegally have been arrested over the past six years in connection with more than 16,000 major crimes and more than 100,000 drug and other crimes in Texas. They estimated the cost of deploying the Guard at $12 million a month — a state obligation that Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and others said they hoped the federal government would eventually reimburse.
Perry called the troops a “force multiplier” to help law enforcement stop criminals at the border. The Guard troops will be embedded with state troopers because they cannot legally detain someone on their own authority.
Texas leaders, he said, could “not stand idly by.”
Sheriffs and others along the border said they had not been consulted. They questioned the wisdom of sending military personnel who are not authorized to stop anyone.
“At this time, a lot of people do things for political reasons. I don’t know that it helps,” said Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio.
He and other sheriffs said spending money to hire more deputies and police makes more sense. Lucio said deputies, police and the U.S. Border Patrol work well together and that they have been able to handle the small uptick in crime along the border.
“I don’t know what good they can do,” Lucio said of military personnel. “You just can’t come out here and be a police officer.”
Adj. Gen. John Nichols, commander of the Texas National Guard, said his troops have supported Department of Public Safety operations during weather-related and other disasters.
He said the troops would undergo some training and be deployed slowly over the next month. Helicopter pilots would help identify suspicious activity and ground troops would be supplied with water and have some medical training if they encountered children or other illegal immigrants.
“We are not planning on detaining people,” he said, but will help direct law enforcement. The mission will be “referring and deterring,” Nichols said.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat who has worked to try to speed deportations of Central American children, said that it would help the Border Patrol if Texas troops could take over administrative tasks so agents can spend more time in the field.
“I welcome the National Guard — but not to militarize, not to do immigration patrol, because they don’t have the authority to do that,” he said.
Perry has seized on the border issue, blasting President Barack Obama and the federal government in general on national news shows and at political events around the country.
It’s won him applause from Republicans he seeks to court in a potential second run for president. He won credit for drawing Obama into a meeting two weeks ago in Dallas to discuss the border. And his strong stance on border issues has caused its own surge of national publicity and a bump in early presidential polls.
Perry gave no indication how the state would shift money to pay for the action — although an early memo from his office cited potential cuts from transportation and health services, areas of state government that are frequently strapped.
More than 3,000 Border Patrol officers work in the South Texas region. With increased resources along the border and the slower U.S. economy, illegal crossings had dropped by nearly two-thirds from 2007 to 2012.
In the past several years, Texas has spent almost $800 million to beef up the border with Department of Public Safety troops and equipment.
Democrats said the deployment was mostly for show.
State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who represents the border area, said if crime were a reason to call out the National Guard, then based on statistics, the troops would be better sent to Dallas and Houston.
He said immigration is a polarizing issue and calling in troops is “a very simplistic answer to a complex problem” that involves gangs and poverty in Central America, desperate families and a broken immigration system.
Saying he opposed militarizing the border, Hinojosa said, “We live in the Valley, we work in the Valley and we know what’s going on in the Valley. Yet politicians come in and politicize the issue without offering solutions.”