Monday, October 2, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Texas Governor Unveils State’s Border Wall Project

Governor Greg Abbott said state agencies are already in talks with South Texans about putting barriers on their land and called for donations to fund the project.

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.


Texas state troopers have apprehended more than 35,000 undocumented immigrants, seized over 10,000 pounds of illegal drugs and over 100 firearms, according to Abbott.

Abbott and Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey signed an interstate compact last week authorizing Arizona to send law enforcement officers to South Texas and encouraging other states to send reinforcements.

Abbott said Oklahoma, Arkansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Florida have already offered support.

“Already Georgia and South Carolina have sent their national guard to the Texas border,” Abbott said. All these states are also led by Republican governors.

It is in all U.S. states’ interest to secure the border, Abbott said, to stop the spread of fentanyl drug cartels are smuggling into Texas.

“In just the first four months of this year, just the Texas Department of Public Safety had an 800% increase in the amount of fentanyl they had apprehended coming across the border … They apprehended enough fentanyl to kill more than 21 million Americans and that fentanyl goes to states across the entire country,” he said.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a staunch Trump ally, sat next to Abbott and tried to frame the resolution officials signed Wednesday authorizing the border project in historic terms.

“This document will go down as one of the most important documents in the history of Texas because it is reclaiming our land, our border, our country, our state for the people of Texas and America,” Patrick said. “We are being invaded.”

The Republican lieutenant governor said the Border Patrol is on pace to apprehend nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants this year.

Patrick noted that since 2015, Texas has allocated $4.4 billion in taxpayer dollars for border security.

“They have left us no choice,” he said. “President Trump was getting the border under control. Had we had four more years with him we would be in total control of this border.”

“Texans will get this done,” Patrick concluded. “We will get this done. We have no choice to get it done. We will not let our state and country be invaded.”

The ACLU of Texas decried the project as “political theater” and said it will undermine the right of immigrants to seek asylum and divest Texans of their land.

“They are asserting groundless and white supremacist talking points about an ‘invasion,’ and through their rhetoric and proposed action are the ones threatening our homes and communities,” ACLU of Texas staff attorney David Donatti said in a statement.

Abbott, who has received Trump’s endorsement for his 2022 reelection bid, is facing a Republican primary challenge from Don Huffines, a wealthy businessman and former Texas state senator from Dallas.

Announcing his candidacy on May 10, Huffines said Texas needs to finally finish building the border wall.

Some political observers believe Abbott was prodded into the project by Huffines because he fears Huffines will siphon support from his conservative base, as polls show a large majority of Texas Republicans support border wall construction.

Democrats have accused Abbott of using immigration to distract from the state’s power grid.

After a winter storm in February caused power outages that left millions of Texans without power, some for over three days, and hundreds died from hypothermia or because they lacked electricity to run their life-sustaining medical devices, the Legislature passed several bills this session to avert a repeat of the disaster.

But the state’s power problems are not confined to freak winter storms. They also crop up in typical scorcher summer days as the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid manager, revealed Monday.

It advised Texans to conserve energy through Friday because power generators had reported 11,000 megawatts were offline as they made repairs to their plants.

Asked about the grid Wednesday, Abbott said it will take a while for the legislative reforms to go on the books.

But he said ERCOT’s announcement Monday was an example of it heeding the public’s call for greater transparency of its grid management.

Follow @@cam_langford
Categories / Criminal, Government, Law

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.