Texas Gov. Rick Perry's call to the department of Homeland Security for 1,000 Army National Guard troops, six helicopters, and at least $135 million dollars to protect the Texas-Mexican border is still drawing mixed reviews among Texans despite escalating violence there.
Some civic leaders, particularly those along the border, are concerned Perry's demand for federal intervention last month is painting the wrong portrait of what is actually happening in the Lone Star State.
Civic leaders who belong to the Texas Border Coalition (TBC) are especially critical.
"Mexican citizens are living through a human rights crisis right now," Eagle Pass Mayor and Texas Border Coalition Chairman Chad Foster said. The city of Eagle Pass shares the border with Mexico. "But President Obama is correct. This is not a problem we should solve by militarizing the U.S. border."
El Paso, directly across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, consistently ranks among the top three safest U.S. cities of its size, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation crime statistics, El Paso Mayor John Cook says.
"That side of the story is not getting out," Cook told the Wall Street Journal.
Last Thursday White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama has received "specific requests" for troops along the border.
One career Texas law enforcement official who’s spent more than 20 years working the border from El Paso to Brownsville investigating cross-border crimes disagreed. He told Newsmax Monday that the border is a "dangerous place" where he wouldn’t let his family get "anywhere near" right now.
"It is getting real nasty down here, especially around El Paso," he said Monday from Austin after assurances of anonymity. His boss is at odds with Gov. Perry over the need for federalized troops. "We don’t go down there anymore except in pairs so we can watch each other's backs. A thousand troops is probably more symbolic than anything given the length of the border, but the time for doing something has arrived."
On March 10 President Barack Obama told reporters he wasn’t interested in "militarizing the border."
Last Friday while appearing on Fox News, Perry said the president "made a mistake" when he told The Dallas Morning News that more forces are not necessary on the Mexican border right now.
After Perry criticized the President for failing to appreciate the apparent dangers faced by outgunned state law enforcement officials Obama seemed to have a change of heart.
Last Thursday Obama announced he was "considering" federalizing 1,000 Texas National Guardsmen and putting five military helicopters equipped for nighttime operations into service on the border. His idea brought immediate protests from some Texas officials
Obama’s suggestion came a week after members of the Texas Border Coalition told a Texas House Committee on Border and Intergovernmental Affairs that alarming statements made by lawmakers about the safety of the border are misguided and misleading.
"Unlike Gov. Rick Perry, who has asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to send 1,000 more troops and resources to Texas to guard the state’s southern border, TBC is calling for a different approach which does not include a U.S. military presence," the coalition said in a prepared statement.
In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano last month, Perry asked for federal funding to help support local and state law enforcement security efforts. In addition he requested six OH-58 helicopters with infrared radar capabilities, the DHS said.
Foster and McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez told Texas House members that the violence, though a "significant problem," has not spilled over.
On March 13 at a U.S. House subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., Homeland Security officials said the federal government has a strategic plan that covers all scenarios.
According to the unspecified contingency plan the National Guard troops wouldn't be deployed until other resources, including Border Patrol agents, other Homeland Security personnel, and state and local police, were maxed out, officials said.
Gov. Perry's homeland-security director, Steve McCraw, expressed particular concern about the spread of gangs linked to Mexican drug cartels and armed with weaponry including rocket-propelled grenades and .50-caliber sniper rifles capable of piercing most body armor.
Mr. McCraw told the Wall Street Journal Monday that the gangs recruit American teenagers at schools along the border for drug distribution, vehicle theft, smuggling and other crimes.
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