Texas to send 1,000 National Guard troops to Mexico border to deal with 'escalating crisis'
The deployment of the troops, who are under the governor's command, would cost the state additional funding beyond the $800 million lawmakers allocated in the legislative session to fulfill a federal government responsibility.
Abbott said the action was necessary because federal authorities have apprehended 45,000 people crossing the border illegally in the last three weeks.
"All this is necessary because Congress refuses to do its job," Abbott said as he made the announcement with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen.
Abbott faulted Congress for refusing to pass laws to overhaul the nation's immigration system and for not dealing with what he called a "humanitarian crisis" at the border.
"It leaves states like Texas fending for themselves," he said. "While we wait for Congress to act, Texas will do all it can to protect its communities and to secure the border."
An Abbott spokesman said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would pay for the deployment, which Abbott characterized as a "short-term mission." There are 1,200 National Guardsmen already working along the Texas-Mexico border.
Democrats were quick to pan the move.
"Deploying 1,000 new troops to the border is reckless, unnecessary, and further serves to harm our relationships with our strategic allies in Central America and Mexico," said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. "Trump, Abbott, Patrick, and Texas Republicans continue to demonize our border communities with their actions and rhetoric while pushing forth policies that will upend our border families' entire way of life. Deploying new troops to the border solves nothing."
Hinojosa called for immigration reform and for working with Central American countries to tackle the extreme poverty and violence that leads people to migrate to the United States.
Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat who leads the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said in a prepared statement that he welcomed "a shift that recognizes a need for humanitarian assistance and keeping trade flowing with our neighbors to the south."
"Last summer, we saw the Trump Administration open a 'tent city' in an attempt to circumvent the care provided to migrant children in their custody," Anchia said. "We will not accept a repeat. It's the duty of the Texas Legislature and all levels of government to ensure that the highest levels of care and standards are followed in every detention center operating in Texas."
Abbott said the troops would assist federal immigration authorities at ports of entry and new holding facilities in the coming weeks in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso. He also criticized congressional leaders for not increasing Border Patrol funding to deal with the immigrants seeking asylum who have overrun holding facilities, particularly children.
"Every child that’s not being taken care of adequately at the border, Congress is an accomplice to any harm they suffer," Abbott said.
"Congress is a group of reprobates for not addressing the crisis on our border," he added. "We’re not going to stand idly by and endanger the lives and safety of the state of Texas because Congress is refusing to do its job."
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, an immigration hawk who is closely aligned with President Donald Trump on border enforcement issues, lauded the president's efforts and blamed congressional inaction.
"The cost to taxpayers in the state of Texas should be borne out by Congress," he said. "This is a federal government responsibility. ... It's time for Congress to quit talking, to quit arguing, to quit fighting, to quit denying that this is a crisis."
Texas has allocated around $800 million on border security in each of the last three legislative sessions, including money for 500 Department of Public Safety state troopers who permanently patrol the border (though they are not allowed to enforce immigration law).
State officials have bemoaned the spending and chided the federal government for stiffing Texas taxpayers with the bill. They've even proposed mostly symbolic legislation to send Congress the bill for the border security spending.
"At some point you must do the job you were elected to do," Bonnen said. "I'm begging our friends in Washington, D.C., to do the job and better respond to a porous border and the humanitarian crisis that exist because of the bad border security."
Texas' increase in border security spending was seen as a way to score political points against former President Barack Obama, a Democrat who was in the White House during the first influx of unaccompanied migrant children from Central America in 2014.
After Trump's election in 2016, Texas lawmakers continued funding border security, despite Republicans' control of both the White House and Congress, which theoretically meant they could push through their desired immigration and border legislation. But the issue remained gridlocked in Washington, partly because of Trump's insistence on a border wall.
In Washington, the call to work together to solve the crisis at the border went mostly unheeded, with Republican lawmakers blaming Democratic leadership in the House and Democrats criticizing the National Guard deployment.
"It is not only wrong, but it is inhumane to let this crisis go unchecked," Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Pilot Point, said in a prepared statement. "While House Democrats continue to kick solutions further down the road, I am grateful that Governor Abbott and Texans are willing to take action and provide humanitarian support that is desperately needed."
Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, said there was no need to spend Texas taxpayer money to deal with the effects of Trump's immigration initiatives.
"Congress provided full funding for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to hire the thousands of agents needed and invest in sensors and drones as well as other technology that can all be deployed today," he said in a prepared statement. "CBP does not need a dollar of Texas's money to do this, and to pretend otherwise invites mockery."
Shortly before Abbott's announcement, Sen. Ted Cruz issued a statement calling on Congress to take a number of steps to beef up border security and address the migrant crisis. Sending more troops was not one of the ideas he mentioned.
But following the announcement, Cruz tweeted that he was grateful for Abbott's action: "It is long past time for Congress to act."
Sen. John Cornyn's office sidestepped the troops issue, responded to Abbott's announcement by pointing to Cornyn's comments this week on the Senate floor calling for passage of the HUMANE Act.
The measure, which so far has stalled, would expedite court proceedings for asylum-seekers; allow unaccompanied children from Central America to return home voluntarily; and hire hundreds more U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.
"I can't imagine how people can be at peace with their own conscience knowing what's happening now and just simply sitting on their hands and doing nothing to address this humanitarian and security crisis," Cornyn said. "We owe it to the dedicated lawmen and women who work to manage this crisis along the border who now are being overwhelmed by this influx of humanity."
On the border, those working with immigrants said they fear the effects of having soldiers working around vulnerable asylum seekers, including children.
"Despite the government continuing to address this as a national security issue, it's not a national security issue -- it's a humanitarian issue," said Dylan Corbett, director of the Hope Border Institute in El Paso. "It could be reckless because these folks are trained to defend the U.S. from a foreign enemy and aggressor, and that's not the situation we have here."
If lawmakers wanted to help, Corbett said, they could provide more public health workers to ensure that children are being treated humanely and under sanitary conditions, or administrative help to expedite asylum claims, which are clogging the system and leading to the swelling numbers at immigration holding centers.
"What we need is public health officials here, we need increased asylum officers," Corbett said. "By not addressing this as humanitarian situation, we're putting people's lives in danger. We're going to be putting our men and women in uniform in situations that they're not trained for. That's not fair to our men and women in uniform or to the migrants coming here."
State Rep. Poncho Nevarez, a Democrat from Eagle Pass whose district abuts the Mexican border, echoed those sentiments.
"Disappointed Governor did not dispatch [Health and Human Services] agents to assist with screenings and resources to help with transportation," he said in a tweet. "If feds are going to reimburse Texas, then this was a missed opportunity to provide the humanitarian help our border communities have been requesting."
Other reactions from Texas politicians
U.S. Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano
"While Speaker Pelosi and Democrat Leadership continue to neglect their responsibility to address the situation at the border, in true Texas fashion, Governor Abbott takes action. The humanitarian crisis at our southern border is serious and House Democrats must come to the table to do what's best for the American people."
U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth
"What we face at the border is a humanitarian challenge that needs to be addressed with compassion not force. These are mostly families, women, and children turning themselves in to claim asylum. We don't need troops for that. What we need from our brave National Guardsmen is for them to be ready to respond to situations like Hurricane Harvey and other disasters, not wasting their time and resources down at the border."
Sara Broadwater, communications director for U.S. Rep. Roger Williams
"Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer continue to cry foul, while the humanitarian crisis worsens each day. Texas has once again answered the call to secure our border, Rep. Williams only wishes his colleagues on the other side of the aisle would do the same."
Julie Oliver, Democratic candidate for Williams' district
"Toddlers in jails. Insufficient food and water for hundreds of kids, denied something as simple as toothbrushes and soap.
"The solution is not armed troops at the border.
"It's humanitarian aid, and accountability for those who ordered these abuses."
State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio
"I am deeply disappointed that our state leadership thinks the crisis at the border is a military crisis. It is not. The real crisis is at the detention centers where migrant children continue to face inhumane conditions. ... We don't need a thousand troops on the border; we need a thousand humanitarians with hearts as big as the Lone Star State to provide relief, hope, and support for the least of our brothers and sisters."
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin
"The Abbott-Trump 'look tough' scheme is unhelpful at the border and unfair to Guard families and businesses. Part of what we really need are health and childcare workers to address the humanitarian crisis Trump created. This underscores the need to ensure that any new dollars from Congress are not misused by Trump to separate immigrant families."
Chara McMichael, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, R-Friendswood
"As per usual, Texas is stepping up to handle critical issues when the federal government can't seem to move forward, and we are grateful Texas currently has the capability to do so. Congressman Weber is increasingly frustrated with the lack of action by Democrat leadership. In fact, he made a unanimous consent (UC) request for humanitarian aid to deal with the border crisis on June 12th, which was denied. At present, I believe Democrat leadership has denied requests for action on the border crisis close to 20 times in the last two weeks.
The reality is that DHS will run out of funding by the end of the month if a Supplemental is not passed. The situation along our border is untenable, and the only ones who don't seem to get that is the Democrat majority."