Texas Governor Rick Perry has a new reason for sending the National Guard to the Southwest border to address the border crisis. “They aren’t displacing Border Patrol,” Perry said in an interview with the Heritage Foundation’s new site, the Daily Signal. “It’ll be just like how we partner with law enforcement. They want to see the border secure, so they won’t resist the assistance. Just the presence and knowledge that they’re deployed will have a powerful message.” This is yet another occasion where Republicans are proposing solutions to the border crisis that don’t make much sense.
Perry doesn’t specify what the “powerful message” actually is, but presumably it is that if you cross the border illegally, you will be arrested. But the National Guardsmen won’t have the authority to make apprehensions. Even if they did, it’s hard to imagine that they would make much of a difference since the border crisis isn’t about border security. The unaccompanied minors are handing themselves over to officials, not trying to elude them. This “powerful message” is meaningless to them.
Perry also argues that the National Guard is needed to deter criminals on the border. “There has not been as much focus on the drug smugglers and other criminals because of these children,” he said. “There’s been an effort by the cartels to distract Border Patrol into taking care of these kids.” Once again, this doesn’t make much sense. Since the Guardsmen don’t have the power to make arrests, they can’t actually stem the flow of criminals at the border. In other words, the National Guard’s power is limited to sending that “powerful message.”
It’s also unclear why Perry has determined that now is the right time to deploy the Guardsmen. Crime on the U.S. side of the border is down significantly in recent years. At the same time, the flow of unaccompanied minors has reportedly fallen over the past month, lightening the load on Border Patrol.
This doesn’t mean that sending the National Guardsmen to the border is a huge mistake. Since they aren’t allowed to make arrests, their lack of training in immigration law shouldn’t become an issue. And while the costs are not negligible—$12 million a month—they aren’t extraordinary either. They could also help repair roads and fences and help with surveillance, although it's unclear how necessary those actions are.
But Perry’s actions mostly serve as a distraction from the humanitarian crisis at hand. We haven’t had trouble apprehending these kids at the border. We’ve had trouble finding places to house them and reducing the backlog in immigration courts. That’s where Perry should really be focusing.
Danny Vinik is a staff writer at The New Republic.