AUSTIN Texas (Reuters) - As Texas prepares to send up to 1,000 National Guard troops to help secure its border with Mexico, several sheriffs in the region are expressing doubts on whether the money spent for the deployment could be better used elsewhere.
The National Guard said the troops were expected to be deployed in the next 30 days to support the state’s border security operation and work with law enforcement officers to keep criminals from entering the United States.
But Eddie Guerra, the sheriff for the border county of Hidalgo, said: “These National Guard troops are trained in search and destroy, they’re not trained in law enforcement.”
“I would prefer that they reach out and bring in more trained law enforcement, more Border Patrol Agents,” he told Reuters.
Governor Rick Perry, who said the state would spend about $12 million a month for the deployment, gave no indication the guard would work with U.S. Border Patrol.
Several border sheriffs said the troops would not have the power to arrest, which would diminish their role in catching criminals.
“I don’t know what good they can do,” Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio told the Dallas Morning News. “You just can’t come out here and be a police officer.”
Commenting on the recent surge of undocumented children crossing into the United States, David Austin, executive director of the Border Counties Coalition, said: “This is a humanitarian issue and I don’t know what the need is for having the National Guard there.”
He said the deployment may be more about politics than pragmatic solutions
Some Texas border counties, which are sparsely populated and have a small tax base, have seen their finances stretched by illegal immigration and have pleaded for money to deal with additional tasks like collecting the bodies of those who die in transit.
In April, Brooks County cut healthcare and reduced salaries for employees, including sheriff’s deputies, because of mounting expenses to collect and process the remains of about 130 immigrants a year who die within its borders. Perry has provided grants to the county to help.
For Perry, seen as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, the deployment was also about sending a message to the Obama administration.
“There can be no national security without border security, and Texans have paid too high a price for the federal government’s failure to secure our border,” he said this week.
Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin and Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Editing by Peter Cooney