Gov. Rick Perry's plan to activate 1,000 Texas National Guard troops for duty near the border with Mexico will do little to ease the crisis caused by the arrival 57,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America. Perry appears to be ignoring the assessment of colleagues — both Republican and Democrat — who insist this is not a border security problem.
More significant to addressing the problem is enlisting the governments of Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to better enforce their own borders and discourage adults and children from attempting the dangerous trip northward. Reports from the region indicate those governments are responding, and the numbers of departing migrants already appear to be dropping.
Even if border security were the problem, it's not clear how much good Perry's troop deployment would do. Soldiers trained for natural disaster assistance and foreign wars can contribute little when the crisis involves swarms of children who are not evading capture.
National Guard troops are not trained in law enforcement. They have no legal authority to conduct arrests or demand identification if the soldiers suspect that civilians they encounter might have crossed the border illegally.
The state already is spending about $1.3 million a week to boost the Department of Public Safety's presence in the Rio Grande Valley. The additional expense of Guard troops could bump that price tag to $5 million a week. Perry's office reportedly would finance it by drawing from "noncritical" areas such as health care or transportation. Given the limited prospect for success, that seems to steep a price to pay.
Perry has previously maintained that the show of force would have a deterrent value and could help free up members of the Border Patrol and Drug Enforcement Administration to focus on their primary responsibilities. But the most helpful — and least wasteful — approach is to wait for a federal request for help and then coordinate activities.
Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, of Texas, says the current crisis isn't a border security problem and argues that it won't be solved by adding troops or Border Patrol officers. The system is overwhelmed because unaccompanied child migrants and single mothers with children are flooding the border and immediately surrendering.
No show of force can stop them from crossing. Once they're here, U.S. law requires that they enter a legal process designed to ensure they're protected from predators in their home countries.
The plan Perry offers is certainly a show — not of force but of political theater. What this situation requires are scores more immigration court judges and facilities to house and feed the young migrants, not soldiers near the border.