By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN Texas (Reuters) - Texas Governor Rick Perry and a key U.S. lawmaker renewed Republican calls on Thursday for National Guard troops to be sent to the U.S.-Mexico border to help stem a surge of Central American nationals entering the United States illegally.
Perry addressed members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security at a field hearing at McAllen, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, the region hardest hit by the thousands of children and families who have streamed to the border in recent months.
He said Texas expects to spend an extra $1.3 million a week through the end of the year to beef up law-enforcement efforts to deal with the crisis, on top of $500 million that he said Texas has spent since 2005 to help secure the border.
"The rapid influx of illegal immigrants has strained border resources that were already insufficient to the task at hand," said Perry, who is considered a possible 2016 Republican presidential contender.
More than 52,000 unaccompanied minors from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have been caught trying to sneak over the U.S.-Mexico border since October, double the number from the same period the year before, U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures showed. Thousands more were apprehended with parents or other adults.
U.S. immigration officials say the humanitarian crisis is being driven by a combination of extreme poverty, gangs and drug violence in Central America, as well as rumors perpetuated by human smugglers that children who reach the U.S. border will be permitted to remain.
Detention and processing facilities in Texas have been inundated, leading U.S. immigration authorities to begin sending some of the immigrants to overflow sites elsewhere in the Southwest to help screen and manage the surge.
Perry called for expanding the presence of Texas National Guard along the border beyond a fleet of aircraft he said were already posted in Texas for border security.
The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, urged President Barack Obama to immediately dispatch National Guard forces to the Southwest border "to free up Border Patrol agents so they can perform their primary mission, and that is securing the border."
Democrats have balked at earlier such Republican demands, saying merely putting more boots on the ground will be of little use. Critics say few of the migrants seek to avoid capture and instead arrive ready to surrender under the mistaken belief they will be allowed to stay.
The Obama administration recently announced it was boosting the ranks or immigration judges, lawyers and asylum officers to speed up processing of detainees. Additional border agents have also been shifted to the Rio Grande Valley.
Meanwhile, transfers of captured migrants to processing facilities in California sparked a backlash in the town of Murrieta, north of San Diego, where protesters shouting "Go home" blocked three buses carrying Central American families to a U.S. Patrol Station on Tuesday.
(Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Leslie Adler)