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What Rick Perry's 'army' will do on the border

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced Monday, July 21, that he will deploy up to <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/21/politics/perry-national-guard-border/index.html?hpt=po_t1'>1,000 National Guard troops</a> to the Texas-Mexico border, where tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America have crossed into the United States this year. Perry also wants President Obama and Congress to hire an additional 3,000 border patrol agents to eventually replace the temporary guard forces. "I will not stand idly by," Perry said. "The price of inaction is too high." Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced Monday, July 21, that he will deploy up to 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border, where tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America have crossed into the United States this year. Perry also wants President Obama and Congress to hire an additional 3,000 border patrol agents to eventually replace the temporary guard forces. "I will not stand idly by," Perry said. "The price of inaction is too high."
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Texas governor orders National Guard troops to the border
  • He says they won't be apprehending border crossers but will be in a support role
  • Bush used National Guard twice in his presidency to help deal with border issues
  • Navarrette: The scene on the border isn't an invasion, but desperate people seeking help

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

San Diego (CNN) -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border kids crisis.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

In fact, "immediately" wasn't soon enough. While Perry has been demanding that the Obama administration send in the troops for several weeks now, the governor shouldn't have wasted his time trying to get the folks in Washington to focus on a border that President Obama didn't even bother to visit recently when he was doing a fundraiser in Dallas just 500 miles away.

For those Americans in both parties who think the United States is undergoing an invasion from the South, it makes perfect sense to call out the troops.

I'm not in the "invasion" crowd. After 25 years of writing about immigration, and a half-dozen trips to the U.S.-Mexico border, I know this much: What we see down there isn't comparable to the encroachment of a foreign army.

Most of it is more like a jobs fair, where people from poor countries in Latin America -- especially Mexico -- go north to do jobs that Americans aren't doing or won't do for anything less than bankers' wages.

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In the last few months, due to the humanitarian crisis involving at least 57,000 unaccompanied minors who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border since October 2013, we've seen the rest of the story -- that some of what goes on down there is tantamount to a fire drill, where the frightened and desperate jump out of a burning building and into what they hope is the warm embrace of a compassionate neighbor.

The real reason that Perry is right to send the National Guard to the border is not what you'll hear from conservatives who continue to show through their rhetoric and rants that they don't have the foggiest understanding of that part of the world.

Key questions about Rick Perry's border plan

Some folks on the right probably think that, under what Perry has in mind, there will be armed troops standing guard on the line and apprehending unauthorized border crossers, including children.

Yeah. That's not going to happen. Can you imagine the horrible optics of that kind of operation, or the international incident that would be created if -- heaven forbid -- a soldier were to hurt a child?

As a likely 2016 presidential candidate, Perry would never risk that possibility. Let's remember that, in 2012, during an earlier and unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination, the governor went after members of his own party. Defending his support for a Texas law that let undocumented students pay in-state tuition, Perry said that Republican critics who had a problem with that didn't "have a heart."

Now, encouraging a confrontation between armed soldiers and a bunch of underage refugees would show that Perry doesn't have a brain. So, we can expect the National Guard to be used much the same way that George W. Bush twice used it during his presidency -- as a support system for the Border Patrol, intended to free up personnel by relieving some of the more mundane duties that occupy the time of those who are supposed to be guarding our borders.

Don't be surprised if the troops wind up freeing up border patrol agents to get out and patrol by doing paperwork, transporting those in custody, fixing vehicles and performing other essential tasks that don't force a confrontation between soldiers and children.

Perry told reporters this week that the guard would be "force multipliers" who help border patrol agents catch those crossing the border who aren't children -- which may be the majority at this point -- and to combat ancillary crime associated with smuggling and drug cartels.

My sources on the border tell me that's the real and untold story here. It's not the kids. It's just how much unabated street crime is occurring every day in the border region, now that so much of the Border Patrol is tied up babysitting the lost children of Central America.

Most Americans who are unfamiliar with the border don't realize that, under normal circumstances (and we're a long way from there), Border Patrol agents don't just keep away uninvited visitors. They also act as a deterrent to the host of street crimes that bad guys might engage in along the border that has nothing to do with immigrants: drug dealing, shootouts, robbery, sexual assault, cartels raiding stash houses and stealing from one another, etc. That is what is going on at our back door as we speak. It's total mayhem.

The Border Patrol can stop some of it, but only if the National Guard frees its hands to do so.

All that at a price tag of $12 million a month, with Texas being forced to pick up the tab.

Meanwhile, two of Perry's fellow border governors — California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican — have already said they have no plans to send National Guard troops to the border.

Once again, Texas is going its own way. Appearing at the press conference with Perry, Texas Adjutant General John Nichols said the troops could detain people if they were asked to do so, but emphasized that they will primarily play a "referring and deterring" role by referring immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally to other agencies and deterring cartel activity by their very presence.

That sounds good. Let's hope it's enough. But for now, Americans need to get behind the idea of using National Guard troops on the border -- which, frankly, had to come from the states because it reeks of too much common sense to have ever come from the current occupant of the White House.

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