Created: 12/15/2015 2:23 PM
By PAUL J. WEBER
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republican Gov. Greg Abbott ordered Texas National Guard troops on Tuesday to remain at the Mexico border, extending once again a mission that began in 2014 when unaccompanied children started pouring into the country and that will now continue due to another wave of arrivals.
As many as 1,000 armed troops patrolled the Rio Grande Valley at the height of what the White House once called a "humanitarian crisis" of children showing up at the Texas border. Military officials who previously refused to publicly state an end date on the deployment said after Abbott's announcement that December was supposed to have been the end of a nearly 18-month mission.
Neither Abbott nor the Texas National Guard would say when troops would now go home. Lt. Col. Travis Walters also would not disclose how many troops would remain, but said no new troops would be deployed.
Abbott issued the order in response to U.S. Border Patrol figures showing that more than 10,000 unaccompanied children crossed into the U.S. in October and November, double the number of crossings in the same two months of last year. The increase has already prompted federal officials to open two shelters in Texas and one in California.
"Texas will not sit idle in the face of this challenge," Abbott said. "We will not be victimized as a state by a federal government's apathetic response to border security."
The criticism is similar to what former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said last year when he first announced the deployment. Perry said at the time that he was sending National Guard troops because Border Patrol agents were getting too overwhelmed to keep an eye on the border. In recent months, only a few hundred National Guard troops have remained as the mission has wound down.
Walter said plans for all troops to return home by the end of December had already been in place but did not specify for how long. "This was the tentative plan for us," he said.
During a trip to the Texas border on Tuesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske declined to directly comment on Abbott's order but said the Border Patrol works well with all the agencies in the area, including the Guard.
"They are all in the same areas, and they all work together," he said.
Kerlikowske described the surge of Central American children and families, who normally turn themselves over to Border Patrol agents, as a "border management issue" and not a "security issue."
The Obama administration has defended the amount of federal resources put toward border security in the last two decades as more than at any point in history. But a letter obtained by The Associated Press this week revealed Sylvia Burwell, the secretary of Health and Human Services, renewing concerns to Congress that too little money will be available to house the latest influx of children.
Federal officials are hoping to avoid a repeat of the crisis it saw in the summer of 2014, when tens of thousands of children and families came over the border. Border Patrol holding areas became overcrowded, with children sleeping on concrete floors covered by aluminum foil-like blankets.
Abbott, who took office in January, approved a record $800 million in state border security spending earlier this year. The governor had previously declined to say when the National Guard mission could end, saying he did not want troops to leave until Texas trained hundreds of new law enforcement officers to replace them.
Abbott said he has also ordered the Texas Department of Public Safety to increase patrols in the air and on the Rio Grande. He is also providing more money to two counties near Dallas where as many as 1,000 of the children are expected to stay at two rural camps.
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Associated Press Writer Seth Robbins in McAllen, Texas, contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)