Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Wednesday that he was putting a $250 million down payment on a state-led project to build “hundreds of miles” of border wall as part of a security plan he said was necessitated by the federal government’s neglect of communities along the state’s international river border with Mexico.
Flanked by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and more than two dozen cheering Texas lawmakers, Abbott (R) signed documents authorizing a number of actions to address the “tidal wave” of immigration that is overwhelming border law enforcement and inciting resentment in some communities.
Abbott, who is running for a third term in 2022 and has recently received the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, began his remarks by crediting the previous administration’s policies for slowing migration and tying his state’s perceived woes to the Biden administration’s dismantling of those programs. Trump said on Tuesday that he accepted Abbott’s invitation to visit the border this month.
Abbott directed state officials to begin the search for a program manager for the border wall, established a donation portal for the project, and invited landowners to volunteer their properties for construction. He also signed a letter to President Biden demanding that federal land taken for border wall construction under Trump be returned to landowners.
However, there were few details about the rest of Abbott’s plan. The governor is encouraging local police and state troopers to begin arresting and charging migrants with trespassing, vandalism, and other misdemeanors. He promised to increase jail capacity in small communities, many of which are struggling to keep up with the number of inmates they already have, let alone the hundreds who cross the Rio Grande every day.
Coe collaborated with his county attorney to develop a plan to begin charging adults caught on private property with criminal trespassing, but he quickly ran out of room in a county jail that holds 14. His six deputies use discretion to lock up migrants they deem a priority, either because they have violent criminal records or pose an immediate threat. Abbott stated that he requested more space from the state’s jail standards commission, which determined that the state has approximately 1,000 extra beds. However, border law enforcement officers interviewed say that in order to achieve the governor’s stated goals, the state would have to ease capacity restrictions locally, and the possibility of human rights violations concerns them.
Border officials say they appreciate the attention and additional state resources, which will help them improve things like their 911 communications systems and hire more deputies and attorneys to jail and prosecute offenders. Others question whether the effort is worthwhile.
According to Rodriguez, the pandemic has resulted in a more than $1 million budget deficit as the county waits for state or federal reimbursement for its expenses. The county increased the sheriff’s budget by thousands of dollars, but Rodriguez is concerned about his overburdened officers.
Judge Richard Cortez of Hidalgo County in the Rio Grande Valley, where the majority of river crossings occur, is as frustrated as many of his neighbors with the federal response to rising immigration, but he has reservations about Abbott’s plan.
Sheriff Joe Martinez’s Val Verde County hosted Abbott’s border summit last week, as did the governor’s private meetings with ranchers and landowners, who represent a vocal and influential group of border residents but do not speak for all.
According to two people who attended the summit, when the governor asked which of them would volunteer their land for border fence or wall construction, not a single hand went up. Later, during a news conference on Wednesday, Abbott stated that state agencies were already assisting border ranchers in fencing their properties.
Martinez agreed with Abbott. The border communities require assistance, which has not arrived quickly enough from the federal government. The sheriff has requested six additional deputies and a boat from the state to assist in the timely recovery of bodies (nine have been discovered since Jan. 18). He also requires more prison space.
During normal hours, the local magistrate holds hearings for about 30 or 40 people per week. With 400 to 500 people crossing the border each day in Val Verde County, Martinez estimated that about 100 people would have to be processed in court each day under the governor’s plan.