“The price of inaction is too high.”
That’s how Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) explained his decision on Monday to send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Perry and other Republicans have been clamoring to send troops to the border for weeks. When President Obama met with Perry earlier this month, he said the governor’s idea “made sense,” but did not take immediate action. Perry, meanwhile, has decided to go ahead with his plan.
Fusion reached out to the governor to ask him some questions about the decision. He didn’t get back to us, but this is what we want to know:
1. What will the National Guard do exactly?
Perry has not provided specific details about what role the National Guard will play at the border. On Monday, he said the troops would act as a “force multiplier” for the Border Patrol.
A spokesperson for the Texas National Guard told Fusion in an email on Tuesday that troops “will enhance security efforts by amplifying the visible presence on the ground and along the Rio Grande, work alongside commissioned law enforcement officers to detect and prevent criminals from infiltrating through the international border, and help ensure the safety of our fellow Texans.”
Guardsmen have been deployed to the border several times in the past decade. During those deployments, they’ve assisted with apprehensions, manned surveillance flights and the construction of border infrastructure, such as fences and roads.
Troops have not been granted the power to arrest migrants crossing the border illegally in the past, but Perry sent a letter to President Obama in June asking him to give them that authority. It’s unclear whether the Texas governor can grant the troops that power on his own.
Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said troops would need extensive training — 21 weeks of police academy. Speaking at an event Wednesday on Capitol Hill, Judd said that having guardsmen make arrests without adequate training would “open the federal government up to lawsuits galore.” He added, “That’s why we have the training that we have.”
Jeh Johnson, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, also appears to be unsure of the National Guard’s role.
“We don’t know yet exactly what they intend to do,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “But whatever that is, I hope that Customs and Border personnel… will work effectively with them.”
The current wave of Central American migrants is made up of a higher percentage of women and children than in the past, and many have been surrendering to Border Patrol — not exactly the type of situation that would be remedied by more armed guards.
2. How long will the deployment last?
In 2006, President George W. Bush sent troops to assist the Border Patrol. The deployment, which lasted two years, peaked at 6,000 troops.
Obama has also deployed the National Guard, dispatching 1,200 troops to the border in 2010. That mission has since dwindled to 117 troops, a spokesperson for the National Guard told Fusion.
Perry hasn’t said how long he expects this deployment to last, but funding could be a factor. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) already tried requesting $30 million from the federal government to assist in border security operations. The request was denied.
Abbott said on Monday that the federal government should pay for the troop surge. “Texans are willing to put boots on the ground,” he said. “But we expect Washington to foot the bill.”
Perry has also said he expects the federal government to reimburse the state for the cost of the deployment.
3. Is this cost-effective?
Sending the National Guard to the border will cost about $12 million per month, Texas Adjutant General John Nichols said Monday.
As a point of comparison, President Obama recently requested $3.7 billion in additional funds this year to deal with the influx of child migrants. Of that, $433 million would go to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees Border Patrol. The funds requested by the president would go beyond guarding the border in south Texas to include housing for child migrants, increasing the number of immigration judges, and information campaigns to discourage Central Americans from making the trek north.
Without more information on Perry’s plan, it’s hard to determine whether the money will be well spent.
4. What’s the worst-case scenario that could happen by deploying the National Guard to the border?
Having a military force at the border raises the risk of some sort of armed confrontation, according to Sylvia Longmire, a retired Air Force captain and a border security expert. The National Guard is trained to “fire only if fired upon,” Longmire said. However, that doesn’t preclude the possibility of a firefight with an aggressive drug smuggler.
There’s never been an incident like that before, but Longmire says it can’t be ruled out entirely.
“They would be a pretty stupid drug smuggler to draw down on a National Guardsman, but that could lead to an international incident, and there’s always concern about that,” Longmire said.
5. What will you do to encourage migrants to stay home and not attempt to make their way to the United States?
Many migrants come here fleeing gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
If the National Guard manages to block the flow of unauthorized immigrants, won’t they also be stopping people who have legitimate asylum claims from seeking safe haven in the United States?
“Unless you address the root conditions that are giving rise to these flows, it’s going to be very difficult to come to a stable solution,” said Cynthia J. Arnson, the director of the Latin America program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. “A lot of the people who are trying to get into the United States are simply desperate, and even if they are returned they will try and try again.”
6. How do you think the Border Patrol agents will react to deployment?
The migrant crisis has forced Border Patrol agents to take on new responsibilities in providing care for children. A Border Patrol union recently tweeted a gripe about “diaper changing” and “burrito wrapping.”
If the National Guard takes on some of those responsibilities, it would likely be welcomed by border agents, according to Stuart Harris, vice president of the Border Patrol union in El Paso, Texas. “If they are sent to relieve our agents of processing/daycare duties, then I would support having the troops there,” Harris said in an email.
Troops might receive less of a warm welcome if they’re thrown into Border Patrol operations without adequate training. Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, said he has serious concerns with the National Guard’s deployment and wants to know what they’ll be tasked to do. “We’re afraid it’s window dressing,” he said.
Update, July 23, 2014, 12 p.m.: This piece was updated with comments from Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council.