CAMP SWIFT -- Gov. Rick Perry thanked a gathering of roughly a hundred National Guard troops who volunteered for border duty, calling them "the tip of the spear" against transnational organized crime.
With federal resources overwhelmed by the crisis of unaccompanied children being smuggled from Central America, Perry claims Mexican drug cartels are stepping up criminal activity in Texas and far beyond. Perry said people from as far away as Iowa, North Carolina and South Carolina -- recent stops on his national political tour -- have expressed concern over cartels exploiting the burden caused by the child migrant situation.
"I think it's time that we stop calling these criminals nice names like 'cartels' and 'gangs' and call them what they really are," Perry said Wednesday at Camp Swift, just outside Bastrop. "These are narco-terrorists, because they are terrorizing America."
Up to a thousand troops at a time are set to cycle through the Rio Grande Valley, and Perry said some 2,200 troops have volunteered for duty so far. With Texas Department of Public Safety troopers already conducting saturation patrols as part of Operation Strong Safety, the National Guard's role will be to present a show of force and assist with surveillance. At Camp Swift, troops train on enhanced observational equipment they'll use to observe and track potential criminal activity along the border. Perry and DPS director Steve McCraw joined troops for a brief review of the training range as news cameras rolled Wednesday.
Calling the $17.2 million a month joint DPS and National Guard operation a stopgap measure, Perry said it will continue until the federal government sends enough Border Patrol agents in the region to secure it. The governor also lamented the Federal Aviation Administration's refusal thus far to allow Texas to utilize a squadron of aerial drones based at Ellington Field in Houston.
Perry continues to insist the administration reimburse the state's cost. After snubbing President Barack Obama's request for $3.7 billion to address the border situation, the Republican-led U.S. House approved a $694 million measure after the Senate had already left for recess. President Obama had already promised to veto the significantly smaller funding package, and neither chamber is scheduled to return until September. While Perry called the House bill a "good faith" measure, he criticized the Senate for not returning to pass it.
"I don't know why they took a five week vacation without dealing with this issue," said Perry. "Because I'll tell you one thing. The narco-terrorists didn't take a vacation. You all know that. I know that, and Washington needs to know that."
Troops are expected to deploy within the next couple of weeks, but Perry suggested it would endanger the operation to publicize a specific date for when full deployment would be reached. Meanwhile critics continue question the need to indefinitely deploy a thousand troops with no powers of arrest or deportation.
"The idea that what we're doing is politics versus protecting the people of Texas and the people of this country falls on its face," Perry responded. "These men and women know what they're doing."