AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Gov. Greg Abbott delivered more details Wednesday on how he plans to fund his proposed wall along the Texas-Mexico border.
Abbott spoke at 3 p.m. from his office at the Texas Capitol building. During his announcement, he revealed he penned a letter Wednesday directing the Texas Facilities Commission to hire a project manager to oversee construction of border barriers. This program manager will be in charge of hiring contractors and subcontractors as needed, according to Abbott’s office. Contractors and the program manager will also work together to pinpoint the state land needed and land that private owners and local governments can offer up for the wall.
As far as other funding, Abbott along with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Speaker Dade Phelan, Sen. Jane Nelson and Rep. Greg Bonnen signed a letter Wednesday during the press conference allowing a transfer of $250 million to launch border wall construction and to pay for a program manager and contractors.
“This funding is a down-payment to begin design and construction of physical barriers on voluntarily donated private and public lands that border this state and Mexico,” the letter reads.
The $250 million will come out of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s allocations for Fiscal Year 2023 and go to the Disaster Funds for Fiscal Year 2022, according to the letter.
“State leadership will identify funding to ensure that the functions of TDCJ are not impacted by this transfer,” the letter reads.
The state budget also allocates $1.1 billion toward border security for the biennium, according to Abbott’s office.
Abbott announced the state would accept donations through a website managed by the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
WATCH— Gov. Abbott border wall press conference:
Additionally on Wednesday, Abbott signed a letter to President Joe Biden asking his administration to return federal land that would have been used to build the border wall in the past.
“The federal government used condemnation powers to take property from Texans for the purpose of building a border wall,” the letter reads. “Once you took office, however, your Administration made clear the federal government will not move forward with building the border wall at this time.”
Abbott’s office said the state plans to talk with property owners about using their land to build the wall.
Abbott first announced plans for the wall during a June 10 meeting in Del Rio. During that meeting he also said the state will pledge $1 billion toward border security initiatives. He said he plans to form a task force on border and homeland security that will meet every two weeks to discuss ways to secure the border.
Abbott said during the June 10 meeting he wants to “work with local officials to arrest anyone who enters our state illegally and is found trespassing against them,” and that there needs to be more jail space available, because “we will be arresting a lot more people in the future,” he said.
Those comments came after he told FOX News’ Sean Hannity he wanted to “arrest everybody coming across the border.”
For State Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, who himself crossed into Texas as a six-month-old from Mexico, said he supported legal pathways for immigrants, noting illegal immigration can cause increased costs for education.
“When you ask the average Texan, they want a secure border,” he said after Abbott’s announcement, which he attended. “Otherwise the cost is exponential.”
“When you have a child that doesn’t speak English, and they’re 14, they’re not going to do well on a standardized test,” he stated.
Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who represented El Paso in the U.S. House, said the state should take more of a humanitarian approach.
“As somebody who lives on the border, and we’re raising our kids on the border, I’ll tell you that the perspective of the border: we don’t need a wall,” O’Rourke said Wednesday.
“When it comes to the migrants, the asylum seekers, the refugees — meeting them with the kindness, the hospitality and the humanitarian impulse for which Texas has always been famous for — that, that’s the way that we do the right thing,” he explained.
Abbott said his priority is protecting Texans.
“The federal government is spending all, seemingly all of its resources concerning the border on the people who are trying to enter into the state of Texas,” Abbott said, when asked about sympathy for people crossing into the country seeking a better life.
“I’m focused on the humanitarian crisis that Texans are suffering through. Texans on the border are suffering through humanitarian crisis by having their lives disrupted with guns and gangs and being riddled with crime. It’s Texans that we have a responsibility as leaders in this state to step up and address their humanitarian crisis, and that is what began today.”
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, said he planned to distribute a list of interim charges for House committees to examine “how is this surge impacted our border communities and communities beyond, because it’s vast and is widespread and… we need to do all we can for our border communities.”
State Sen. César Blanco, D-El Paso, suggested five measures for managing taxpayer funding in an “accountable, transparent, and smart” way as it relates to border security.
“Proposals of a physical wall made of cement or steel slats is a third-century solution to a 21st century problem,” Blanco said. “The federal government, dating back to President Bush, has already built fencing and walls in the highest traffic areas.”
Blanco believes the state should build a digital wall with fiber optic lines that cost a fraction of the wall infrastructure. He wants to see a crackdown on gun trafficking in the state and incentivize reporting of lost or stolen guns to law enforcement. Blanco said the state should modernize its ports of entry with technology to better pick up illegal drugs entering the state. He also suggested improving border rail inspection stations to more thoroughly inspect rail cars crossing the Texas border.
Blanco also wants the state to reimburse local border communities and private property owners for damage incurred as a result of the border crossing surge. Republicans including Abbott support that concept.
Following Wednesday’s press conference, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced emergency authorization for border wall construction on state lands.
“Owning approximately 591,595 surface acres along the border, the GLO will partner with state and local officials to expedite the completion of the barrier needed to protect Texans from smuggling, crime, and trafficking,” the press release from the Texas General Land Office noted.
Photojournalist Chris Nelson contributed to this report.