Texas Border Community Leaders Fire Back At Gov. Rick Perry Over Troop Surge

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The surge of National Guard troops along the border at Governor Perry’s behest has done wonders for his presidential aspirations — rocketing him from statically insignificant to double digits in the latest GOP Primary polls — but the local border community hasn’t exactly jumped on the bandwagon.

Members of the business community and elected officials are among those who have criticized the militarization of the border. The concerns expressed include the impact on tourism, business recruitment and the perception that cities on the Texas-Mexico border are unsafe.

When Perry first announced his intentions to send the National Guard he did so under the pretence of an epic wave of crime being committed by undocumented immigrants, an assertion that received a “pants on fire” rating from Politifact. He then proceeded to parade around the border for photo ops in armed boats and helicopters. That behavior has unfortunately seemed to embolden “militia groups” to take up arms and start patrolling the border themselves. Or maybe these self-appointed vigilantes are actually aware that the official troops can’t “engage” the minors, and see it as their patriotic duty. Either way Perry’s guns blazin’ attitude is sending the wrong message and negatively effecting the local community.

In a letter to Gov. Perry, Rep. Joaquin Castro said the border has been used as a boogeyman for too long and called Perry’s latest stunt an attempt to create a “police state.”

…Rio Grande Valley leaders agree that the $12 million a month of taxpayer money you plan to spend (with no defined metrics to measure success) would be better invested in supporting local police and sheriff departments in those communities…The people of South Texas do not want to and should not have to live in a police state.

Perry continues to be defiant in his actions and assert that he is not “militarizing the border,” yet his comments generally continue to build a case that that is exactly what he is doing. He told reporters Tuesday regarding an end game, “That’s a question of when you want to leave the battlefield…We’re going to spend whatever we need in the state of Texas to protect our citizens.”

Perry is using this type of language to “send a strong message” and discourage more minors from making the tortuous journey but many arrive already aware that troops can’t deport them. To those those south of the border he is throwing up the bat signal, and to those businesses and tourists to the north, the yield sign.

Eduardo Campirano, director of the Port of Brownsville and Rio South Texas Economic Council chairman opposes the surge because of its effects on the local economy, in a statement published by the Rio Grande Guardian he said:

“Business leaders of the Rio Grande Valley and the Rio South Texas Economic Council ask the governor to reconsider his decision to send National Guard troops to our border communities…Adding a military presence to our communities will only create an inaccurate image that our safe and viable border region in the Rio Grande Valley is dangerous, and that the problem is not presently being managed, which is not the case. This erroneous impression can harm our attempts to recruit new businesses. We respectfully ask the governor to rescind his orders to send the National Guard to the border.

Many local elected officials and law enforcement agree:

Pharr Mayor Leo “Polo” Palacios: “We don’t need 1,000 National Guard troops. I think we need to send 1,000 teachers.” [Houston Chronicle, 7/24/2014]

El Paso Sheriff Richard Wiles: I was shocked cause the information he is providing is not the information I am getting from sheriff’s across Texas, along the border. [TXCN, 7/29/2014]

You can view more comments with citations here. According to a survey by Public Religion “Approximately 7-in-10 (71%) Americans agree with the general principle of offering refuge and protection to those who come to the U.S. fleeing serious danger in their home countries.” But to better understand why Perry has framed the issue as one about illegal immigration you have to isolate GOP — his likely presidential primary voters. “Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) Democrats and a majority (54%) of independents say families are primarily trying to keep their children safe. In contrast, about 4-in-10 (41%) Republicans agree that families are primarily trying to keep their children safe; a majority (52%) of Republicans believe families are primarily seeking a back door to immigrate to the U.S.

The bottom line is Perry sold the surge as a show of force, not as a way to provide easier access to border patrol for unaccompanied minor refugees, even if that is their purpose other than being his tool for intimidation. The latter shows less than the utmost respect for the uniformed members of our armed services.

If he wants resources at the border Perry should have worked with Texas’ Congressional delegation to pass a bill to fund it. It would have also shown leadership by someone who has an eye on the White House, instead he is choosing his own unilateral foreign policy from the Governor’s mansion — not a great start.

Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

About Author

Joe Deshotel

Joe was born and raised in Beaumont, Tx, but live music and politics brought him to Austin. He has worked in and around government and elections for over a decade including for a member of US Congress, the Texas Legislature, the Mayor of Austin. He currently serves as Communications Director for the Travis County Democratic Party. He is most interested in transportation, energy and technology issues. He also likes Texas Hold'em and commuting on his electric skateboard. Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

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