AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republican Gov. Greg Abbott ordered Texas National Guard troops on Tuesday to remain at the Mexico border, extending again a mission that began in 2014 when unaccompanied children started pouring into the country and that will continue amid 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 then-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 — whose stated role on the border is provide extra sets of eyes but not make arrests — because Border Patrol agents were getting too overwhelmed. In recent months, only a few hundred National Guard troops have remained as the mission has wound down.
Across the border, the Mexican foreign ministry released a statement that criticized Abbott's decision and called for dealing with immigration from "an effective and humane perspective." It went on to say that the Mexican government will monitor to make sure security measures don't impinge on its citizens' rights.
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 hope 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.
Abbott, who took office in January, approved a record $800 million in state border security spending earlier this year. He also ordered the Texas Department of Public Safety to increase patrols in the air and on the Rio Grande.
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Associated Press writer Seth Robbins in McAllen, Texas, contributed to this report.