Con: Texas National Guard cannot enforce immigration law

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Aug. 10, 2014 at 6 p.m.

The National Guard's presence on the United States and Mexico border sends the wrong message about what is becoming a humanitarian crisis, said Mary Lou Canales, the district 10 director for the League of United Latin American Citizens.

"It says, 'We don't care about you.' It says, 'If you try to cross, you're going to be sorry,'" she said.

Canales, who is also Region III's migrant recruiter, thinks the U.S. should try to improve the poor conditions in its neighboring countries, which force people entering the country illegally to seek asylum here, she said.

Canales' LULAC predecessor, Benny Martinez, 80, stressed the U.S. was built by immigrants.

Most who cross are here to work, he said, adding that he sometimes allows illegal immigrants to drink from a pond on his 8 acres of land in Goliad County.

He does not harbor them, though.

The National Guard is similar to Minutemen in that their hands are also tied.

"They're not going to stop those people from coming in. They built a fence, and they're still coming over," Martinez said. "By God, if I lived over there, I would come, too."

San Pedro Sula in Honduras, which has the most unaccompanied children crossing the border, had 187 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013.

Thirty percent of its citizens were also living on less than $2 a day, according to the Pew Research Center.

The Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the military from enforcing civilian law without congressional permission, said Douglas Zelkowski, 31, of Port Lavaca.

Zelkowski was a military police officer for 10 years and doesn't think the National Guard can be effective unless martial law is declared.

"I also think it's going to be a hardship on the families because a lot of people in the National Guard are probably taking pay cuts," Zelkowski said.

Using the National Guard as a deterrent is like "saying my house has an alarm and putting a sign out front," he said.

"I think the governor has a good idea on trying to do something," Zelkowski added. "Maybe he wasn't advised properly on what they could do."

Money should be devoted to dealing with the repercussions of illegal immigration - immigrant deaths, said Eddie Canales, the founder of the South Texas Human Rights Center.

Canales helps locate the missing and identify the dead.

Forty-five people who have entered the country illegally have perished in the harsh terrain of Brooks County this year. There were 87 deaths in 2013, he said.

He thinks the governor's move is politically motivated.

"It's just bravado on his part, and it won't make anything substantially different here," Canales said.

Some local sheriff's offices used to take advantage of "Border Star," a grant program that reimbursed them for running criminal interdiction on the trafficking of humans, narcotics, firearms and illegal currency, "but there got to be so much red tape involved and bureaucracy in it that we didn't apply last time," said Lavaca County Sheriff Micah Harmon.

Although Harmon thought illegal entry was "out of control" and supported efforts to stop it, he wasn't sure what the National Guard's role would be and preferred money be sent to support the sheriff's offices in that area.

Lt. Col. Wesley Reed, who is running for Congress, meanwhile, advocated for Senate Bill 744.

"I view the National Guard troops as a Band-Aid on the solution," he said.

With an estimated cost of $46.3 billion, the bill provides for 19,200 more Border Patrol agents, 700 miles of double fencing with electronic and drone surveillance as well as additional prosecutors, judges and staff, according to information from Reed's office.

Reed, a Democrat, is Congressman Blake Farenthold's opponent in the Nov. 4 election.

The bill was drafted before the recent surge in immigrants and approved by the Senate, but Speaker John Boehner has refused to bring it up in the House, Reed said.

The proposed legislation provides legal status to 11 million undocumented immigrants within the U.S. if they meet certain criteria, such as not having a felony conviction.

It also doesn't do away the 2008 William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which allows immigrant children from non-neighboring countries an opportunity to gain asylum, Reed said.

"People for over a century now have come to the U.S. to seek a better life for themselves," he said. "They come here because they view America as the best country on earth, and we are. If I lived in a terrible situation in a foreign country, and I was worried about my kids being able to grow up and survive, I think I would spend that money."



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