National Guard Theatrics Jeopardize Billions in Potential Growth Along the Texas Border

Note: This story originally appeared on The Quorum Report. Join us there daily for coverage of Texas politics and government. 

rick perry

Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas.

While Gov. Perry continues his national cable TV tour talking about the influx of migrant children along the border and his decision to deploy as many as 1,000 Texas National Guard Troops to the region, business and political leaders there are increasingly concerned that their hot economy will be chilled by his executive actions.

Perry, appearing on Fox News Channel Wednesday, said the surge in border security is already having great effect in reducing the number of apprehensions of those illegally crossing the border. He added that leaders in Washington are “wasting their time” if they pursue comprehensive immigration reform without first creating a comfort level among Americans that the border is secure. There has been a 56 percent decrease in apprehensions along the border in the five weeks since Operation Strong Safety began, Perry said.

But that progress – if it can be called “progress” given the fact illegal crossings often see a dip during the hot summer months – cannot be credited to the deployment of the National Guard. The Senate Finance Committee this week heard testimony from the commander of those forces that the vast majority of them, about 700, are stationed for training now at Camp Swift near Bastrop, nearly 350 miles from the Rio Grande.

And, as Marty Schladen at the El Paso Times has reported, the statistics Gov. Perry and DPS Director Steve McCraw often cite to make their case for the border surge are problematic and rely on “fuzzy math.”

The optics of this have gotten so treacherous for those charged with expanding the economy in South Texas that many feel they have no choice but to speak out.

In a letter to Perry dated July 29, McAllen Chamber of Commerce President Steve Ahlenius said “deploying the Guard to the border sends the wrong image to 200 South Korean and Japanese companies who are considering moving manufacturing facilities to McAllen.” Ahlenius said he hoped Perry would reconsider. The McAllen Chamber has received no response from the governor’s office. There was also no comment from the governor’s office for this story.


Gov. Perry and Fox News Channel Host Sean Hannity on the Rio Grande.

In an interview Thursday, Ahlenius told Quorum Report that Asian investors of suppliers for tech and the auto industry were quite surprised during their recent annual visit to McAllen. “The very same week, Rick Perry’s going up and down the river in the gunboat,” he said. “They were asking us ‘what’s up with this and is it something serious that we need to be aware of?’”

His answer to them was “No, it is not.”

The crime rate in McAllen is about the same as Round Rock or Plano, which of course is set to be the new home of Toyota’s North American headquarters. “If you feel safe in those communities, you will feel safe in ours,” he said. Local crime statistics also show, he noted, that there’s been no uptick in property or violent crime since the influx of unaccompanied children began.

The combined GDP of Hidalgo and Cameron Counties is $62 billion, Ahlenius said, and added Perry’s political moves are putting their growth at risk. “It means that we are constantly having to explain what’s going on and why it’s being done.”

Perry has strenuously denied this is about politics or a potential run for the presidency. “The idea that what we’re doing is politics versus protecting the people of Texas, the people of this country, is just false on its face,” Perry has said.

City leaders up the river in Laredo think the McAllen Chamber has this pegged.

“These people (like Perry) need a wakeup call,” said Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas. “And I’m gonna be an alarm clock.” Putting the bustling economy of the Laredo sector at risk for the sake of politics is unacceptable, he said.

Salinas said he cringes when he hears anyone talking about “shutting down” or “sealing off” the border. Each day, as many as 12,000 tractor trailers make their way through the Laredo port of entry – the largest inland port in America and the nation’s third largest customs region behind Los Angeles and New York City. Laredo has also been ranked as “the most economically recovered city” in America following the meltdown of 2008.

Recent controversy surrounding border security “is destroying the opportunity to continue to grow,” Salinas said. The area has had trouble recruiting doctors, nurses, academics, and others at least in part because of “political propagandizing,” he said. “These people never even come down here unless they’re running for office.”

Salinas was an FBI agent prior to becoming mayor and said he has great respect for DPS as well as the National Guard, but “there’s no reason for them to be flooding in here.” There were three homicides last year in the city of nearly 245,000, crime statistics show.

Ahlenius, the McAllen Chamber president, also pointed out that the City of McAllen is going to be on the hook for at least a half million dollars by the time the migrant children have been cared for. He said some of that $38 million Perry was able to quickly find for troops should go to the city and to agencies like the beleaguered Brooks County Sheriff’s Department, which was featured last weekend in the Washington Post.

There are four sheriff’s deputies for that entire county who each make $11.50 an hour and do not have bullet proof vests, among other law enforcement necessities. “They’re not even getting the basics there and they can’t get any help?” Ahlenius said. “I mean, come on.”

Copyright August 14, 2014, Harvey Kronberg,, All rights are reserved. Reprinted with permission. 

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