Perry, White hold off on criticism of troops’ deployment to border

Dallas Morning News, 5/28/2010

Even though Texas won’t be getting the bulk of the National Guard troops ordered to the U.S.-Mexico border, both candidates for governor refrained from being overly critical of the Obama administration’s deployment decision.

GOP Gov. Rick Perry said he would wait to see whether his request for help on border security would be fulfilled before determining whether the state was being left out. “We have not received anything from the current administration about additional support of our border,” he said Wednesday in Richardson. His Democratic challenger, Bill White, said using federal troops is helpful but only a short-term solution.

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From the Mexico Institute’s Robert Donnelly:

The decision to deploy 1,200 National Guard troops to the border this week has prompted typical responses from the political extremes. On the right, it’s seen as a cynical move, coming just ahead of a Republican-sponsored spending amendment seeking a 6,000-troop force. On the left, it’s seen as a give-away, a futile gambit to attract bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform. Still, the administration’s decision to send the troops-with the majority going to the Arizona desert-does have a shred of good news for both sides. It shows the federal government is at least responding to local concerns on security and immigration-even if these concerns aren’t borne out by the facts.

Admittedly, the decision to deploy is very much a response to politics. For the past few months, Republicans have been calling for a bolstered guard presence, with appeals intensifying after the March death of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz. And prominent Democrats have also joined the chorus for troops, among them New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. (Krentz’s killer, local media have speculated, allegedly turned around and escaped back into Mexico after killing him on his ranch; but, investigators have yet to name a suspect.) Additionally, the deployment makes sense in light of the November congressional elections, helping to preempt charges against Democrats in conservative-leaning districts that the administration is soft on border security.

The policy reasoning behind the deployment is dubious at best. Mexico’s drug-related violence of the past half-decade has not “spilled over” across the border, questioning the urgency of adding 1,200 agents to the existing border security detail. In fact, many U.S. border cities, notably El Paso, typically report quite low levels of violent crime-much lower in some cases than rates in comparably sized cities much farther from the border. Additionally, apprehensions of unauthorized crossers, which are considered proportional to the total volume of unauthorized crossings, have dropped sharply in recent years, falling by more than 23 percent in fiscal year 2009. Attributed principally to the economic recession, the decreases have served to diminish somewhat the political saliency of undocumented immigration this cycle.

Yes, the deployment can be read primarily as a showy attempt to demonstrate federal action on undocumented immigration and border security. But it can also be viewed differently: as a necessary and measured response that helps to undercut arguments for state and local intervention on immigration policy. Such interventions, such as Arizona’s SB1070 this year and California’s Proposition 187 of the mid-1990s, have over time not led to the economic benefits claimed by backers, while in the short term they have incurred significant political and economic boycotts.

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