National Guardsmen are needed along the border with Mexico to deter and detain criminals, Texas Gov. Rick Perry told the Tribune-Review in an interview critical of the Obama administration's delayed response to a surge of illegal immigrant children.
Deploying 1,000 Guardsmen "has nothing to do with unaccompanied minors or children crossing the border," Perry said, because data show "only 20 percent of those apprehended crossing the border illegally are children."
The Texas Department of Safety found that 203,000 illegal immigrants were arrested and charged with more than 640,000 crimes since 2008, Perry told the Trib.
"Of those crimes, 3,000 were homicides and nearly 8,000 were sexual assaults," he said. "Thousands of lives have been shattered forever, that shouldn't have (been), if the federal government had done its job."
Perry, a potential contender for president in 2016, said President Obama engages on domestic policy issues only when they become full-blown crises.
The governor is simply trying to grab headlines, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest replied.
He said the administration hopes "Gov. Perry will not just take these kinds of steps that are generating the kind of headlines I suspect he intended, but will actually take the kinds of steps that will be constructive to solving the problem over the long term."
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met on Friday with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to discuss stemming the flow of undocumented immigrants. Obama said afterward that they agree on the need to address poverty and violence in Central America.
"I emphasized that the American people and my administration have great compassion for these children. ... But I also emphasized to my friends that we have to deter a continuing influx of children putting themselves at risk," he said in a statement the White House released.
Those governments have "implemented public awareness campaigns on the dangers of irregular migration, increased their consular presence on the border, and strengthened their enforcement efforts against smuggling organizations," the White House said.
But Perry said Obama took two years to react.
He said he wrote to Obama in May 2012 to detail "an emerging problem with a growing wave of unaccompanied minors crossing the border." The letter warned that drug cartels and criminals were infiltrating Texas, he said.
Border Patrol data show that the number of children entering Texas illegally has grown from about 5,000 in 2012 to more than 50,000 this year.
"Inaction encourages other minors to place themselves in extremely dangerous situations," Perry wrote in his letter to the president. "... Every day of delay risks more lives. Every child allowed to remain encourages hundreds more to attempt the journey."
Researchers from the University of Texas at El Paso sent a report to the Department of Homeland Security in August about the rising number of unaccompanied minors from Central America. The report questioned the government's capability to handle the situation, which it projected would worsen.
Perry said Obama could have used diplomacy to deal with the problem immediately. "I would've had people in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala dealing with those countries' leadership to find out what is going on with these kids, and (asking), 'Why are they ending up on your trains and your buses coming to the border with Texas?' "
He said Washington should have reached out earlier to Mexican authorities to determine how thousands of children could travel hundreds of miles without apprehension.
"There were some pretty powerful diplomatic ways you could have handled it that I think were ignored," he said.
Now, drug cartels and criminal organizations are taking advantage of distracted law enforcement officers processing illegal immigrants, Perry said. He wants a show of force with Guard troops, even though they cannot make arrests, to assist Texas Rangers, the Department of Safety, the Border Patrol and other officers.
Salena Zito is a Trib Total Media staff writer.