A Mexican boy looks at a member of the U.S. Border Patrol standing guard between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez on July 22. / Jesus Alcazar, AFP/Getty Images
Think what you will of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's decision to send 1,000 National Guard troops to the state's southern border to help stop the flood of children racing across the border. Many Republicans see it as an act of leadership in the face of federal inaction. Many Democrats see it as a political ploy to raise Perry's profile for a presidential run.
But one thing is certain: Perry's decision shines a bright spotlight on the need to focus on how best to secure our nation's border, an important debate that has been so watered down by partisanship and political gridlock that the country is only considering quick fixes that will do little to fix the broader problems.
Members of both parties understand that significant gaps remain in our country's border security infrastructure. From the ability to accurately track every foreigner who flies through our nation's airports to dealing with a southwestern border that obviously remains porous, from a worker verification system to cut off jobs for undocumented immigrants to more prosecutions of businesses that hire them, there are myriad ways that border security needs to be updated and strengthened.
Instead, Perry is sending in the National Guard, and Congress is considering an emergency funding request from the White House that includes overtime for Border Patrol agents and more surveillance flights over the region, but little else.
And the sad thing is, there are no shortage of proposals out there that could make things better.
In the past couple of years, I've spoken with nearly every sheriff whose county borders Mexico, all of whom have fascinating ideas on how to lock down their bailiwicks. I've spoken with past directors of the Department of Homeland Security who agonize over the fact that the country still doesn't fingerprint every foreigner leaving the country to better understand who has overstayed a visa.
I've heard the plight of business owners who operate on both sides of the border about the need to speed up how quickly their trucks can pass through our clogged ports of entry. And I've heard complaints of the "militarization" of the border that makes it a more dangerous place.
The $46 billion border security plan passed by the Senate was panned by many, but it did produce the first comprehensive list of new technology needed along the border - 4,567 ground sensors, 440 fixed cameras, 763 pairs of night-vision goggles. A House plan designed by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, that calls for a border strategy aimed at stopping 90% of people trying to cross illegally has been sitting on a shelf for more than a year.
All of those avenues were blocked in Congress once a broader immigration bill died in the Republican-led House.
Perry's idea, however controversial, has proved helpful in the past. In 2006, President Bush ordered 6,000 National Guardsmen to help protect the nearly 2,000-mile border. They built border fencing, flew surveillance planes and tracked undocumented immigrants from observation posts, freeing up Border Patrol agents to monitor the border. By the end of the two-year deployment, border-state governors from both parties wanted their stint to be extended.
President Obama's emergency budget request would also help. More overtime is desperately needed for Border Patrol agents run ragged processing the waves of Central American children who have crossed into the U.S. Sixteen more crews to operate drones and funding for 16,000 more flight hours of manned surveillance flights would also be pluses.
But those modest steps represent short-term fixes for a grinding problem that screams for a long-term solution.
Gomez covers immigration for USA TODAY.
Read the original story: Voices: Perry spotlights need for border solution