In coming weeks, Texas National Guardsmen on two separate missions will be working along the Texas-Mexico border in South Texas.
One, dubbed "Operation Strong Safety," was called for by Gov. Rick Perry to bolster border security at a time of increased illegal immigration. It is estimated to cost $12 million a month and has no end date. Up to 1,000 soldiers are expected to arrive in the Rio Grande Valley in coming weeks and serve a surveillance role state officials have called "deter and refer."
They will be covering some of the same territory as a much smaller contingent of several dozen guardsmen who deployed this week as part of the Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force. These soldiers were specifically trained to man observation towers in search of drug-related activity. They are supporting local law enforcement agencies in their counterdrug efforts, said Texas National Guard Master Sgt. Ken Walker, public affairs officer for the Joint Counterdrug Task Force.
On Friday, Walker said he had been mistaken when he told The Associated Press on Thursday that the soldiers were included in the up to 1,000 troops called up by Perry.
"As Texas guardsmen we all fall under the governor, we all work together on the mission, but there is a funding stream difference between what the Joint Counterdrug Task Force is doing and the 'Operation Strong Safety' troops," Walker said.
There will be some overlap in the surveillance roles the soldiers on both missions play, but they will be answering to distinct commands and are paid for from different sources, Walker said.
The Joint Counterdrug Task Force has operated on the border for years in support of law enforcement. Walker said this deployment in the Rio Grande Valley has funding through September.
"Operation Strong Safety" is a mission initiated by the Texas Department of Public Safety, which has surged its own state troopers into the Rio Grande Valley in recent weeks. The guardsmen that deploy to support it will be looking for human and drug smuggling and, depending on the activity, will report it to the proper authorities. They do not have authority to enforce immigration law so in those cases they will contact the Border Patrol.
From October to July, 63,000 unaccompanied children were arrested after entering the U.S. illegally, double the number from the same period a year earlier. Another 63,000 families -- mothers or fathers with young children -- were arrested during that period.
Those arrests have slowed, however. Arrests of children traveling alone and children and parents traveling together dropped by about half in July from the previous month.