AUSTIN, Texas (CN) --- Former President Donald Trump got around 450 miles of border wall built. Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the state will add hundreds more miles, launching the project on Wednesday with a $250 million down payment.
“Make no mistake,” Abbott said, “the border crisis we are dealing with is a direct result of the open-border policies that have been put into place by the Biden administration. Remember that the border was far more under control under the Trump administration.”
Surrounded by Republican lawmakers at the State Capitol, Abbott said at a press conference state agencies are already talking to South Texans about putting fencing on their land, and he is sending a letter to President Joe Biden demanding the federal government return land it took through eminent domain from residents for wall construction during Trump’s tenure.
Trump’s administration built about 450 miles of barrier, mostly on federal land, natural parks and monuments, in Arizona. The process was much more difficult in Texas because most of the land on the Rio Grande, the border between Texas and Mexico, is privately owned and the government has to bring condemnation lawsuits against landowners who reject the price it offers for their land as too low, or are unwilling to sell at any price.
On his first day in office, Biden denounced the project. “It shall be the policy of my administration that no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall,” he wrote in a Jan. 20 declaration.
In a June 11 update of the status of border wall funding, the White House said the Trump administration had built just 52 miles of walls where no barrier previously existed, with some segments costing $46 million per mile.
The White House said it is urging Congress to cancel any border barrier funding remaining at the end of the year, and the Department of Homeland Security will use funds already allocated for barrier construction to fix environmental damage caused by Trump’s wall building instead.
Abbott plans to fund Texas’ project with a combination of taxpayer dollars and donations. He said the state is already receiving checks from supporters for wall construction.
Abbott announced the project last week at a “Border Security Summit” in Del Rio but provided no details, leaving legal experts scratching their heads because immigration and border regulation are under the sole authority of the federal government, not states.
But Abbott clarified Wednesday Texas’ effort is centered on state trespassing laws.
“When there’s a barrier up, it will have ‘Warning: Do Not Trespass’ signs. Anybody who comes through, or around, or near that barrier is subject to being arrested for aggravated trespassing,” he said.
The penalties are enhanced, Abbott said, because he signed a disaster declaration May 31, covering 34 counties on the Mexico border he claims are being plagued by property crimes perpetrated by immigrants entering the country illegally.
Under the enhancement, the penalty for trespassing is at a minimum a Class B misdemeanor, Abbott said.
“Which means they could spend a long time in jail for violating the trespass laws of Texas,” he added.
The governor said Texas will hire a program manager to oversee the project and hire contractors. Acknowledging it will cost much more than $250 million, he said, “Once they get to work they’ll be able to provide us with a more accurate estimate of what the cost will look like.”
Abbott has been preoccupied with the border this year, repeatedly bashing Biden for policies he says have laid out a welcome mat for human traffickers to lead immigrants across the Rio Grande into Texas.
Already this year, Abbott has deployed 1,000 Texas state troopers and hundreds of Texas National Guard soldiers to the border in an offensive dubbed Operation Lone Star.