DEL RIO, Texas (Nexstar) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he’ll share plans next week for the state to build a wall along the Mexico border, but he offered no other specifics about how the project would proceed.
This particular announcement drew a standing ovation and cheers Thursday evening from the crowd gathered at Abbott’s border security summit in Del Rio. He also discussed several other initiatives he said would “secure the border and restore order.”
Abbott held up a stack of papers and told the crowd Texas lawmakers allocated $1 billion in the latest budget to fund border security efforts. He also announced the formation of a new governor’s task force on border and homeland security, which he said will meet every two weeks to come up with “every solution to make your border safer.”
That task force, Abbott explained, would include members of his office, the attorney general’s office, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Division of Emergency Management, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the state commissions on law enforcement and jail standards.
Abbott invited local landowners like John Paul Schuster to the summit as well. He said he encounters migrants on his ranch in Kinney County, 25 miles from the border, almost daily in recent weeks.
“The other day at the house was a gentleman, he was by himself. He was dirty. He had been traveling through the brush,” Schuster explained. “As he approaches the house, there he is got a long sleeve hoodie on jeans and a backpack. Okay, good guy or bad guy? What’s in that backpack?”
“You only got just five or six seconds to make that decision. Good guy. Bad guy. Yeah. Are they gonna stop and talk to me? Are they gonna keep coming at me?” Schuster said, adding he and his wife carry a gun almost all of the time, even at home at the dinner table.
“I don’t want to have to kill somebody, and I don’t want to,” Schuster said, tearing up.
Ahead of the governor’s summit, he said the government needed to come up with a better plan to help.
“I don’t ask a lot of the government, I work hard, we work hard, pay our taxes, that’s justifiable. But we need help,” Schuster said.
Following the summit, Schuster said he was hopeful Abbott’s new proposals would help.
The summit also included county sheriffs, police chiefs, county judges and mayors to talk about how the state is trying to secure the U.S./Mexico border, a press release from Abbott’s office said. It also focused on “collaborative strategies between state government, local city and county officials, law enforcement, and landowners to secure our border communities and ensure a safer future for all Texans.”
Along with Abbott, TDEM Chief Nim Kidd, Texas Military Department Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris and Texas DPS Director Steve McCraw spoke at the Del Rio Civic Center.
The summit came after Abbott made comments to FOX News’ Sean Hannity that he wants to arrest “everybody coming across the border.” Two law enforcement members that confirmed the summit last week to our news partners at Border Report are hoping the summit “sheds light” on Abbott’s comments.
Abbott said Thursday he’ll sign another disaster declaration next week to create this plan.
“What this will do, it will focus on making arrests,” Abbott said. “The Department of Public Safety will work with local officials to arrest anyone who enters our state illegally and is found trespassing against them. We will be arresting a lot more people in the future, so more jail space will be required.”
Abbott made disaster declarations in 34 border counties due to the influx of migrants trying to cross the border. In response, migrant advocates in the Rio Grande Valley issued their own counter-declaration, saying Abbott’s move was “a transparent attempt to distract from his failed leadership,” and unfairly mischaracterized the border communities. It pressed for more support for those communities, not more law enforcement.
Migrant advocates criticize Abbott’s approach, pointing to other Republican state leaders who have tried ramping up enforcement during surges in the past.
“This isn’t a new tactic, necessarily. And Texas governors in the past have also tried to sending National Guard troops or Department of Public Safety officers to the border. We’ve seen little, if any effect of that. Most of the changes in migration flows at the U.S.-Mexico border come either from changes in U.S. federal policy or changes in the degree to which Mexican immigration authorities are enforcing immigration laws in the interior of that country,” Jessica Bolter with the Migration Policy Institute explained.
While Abbott largely pointed the finger at the Biden administration for the current crisis, Bolter explained that’s not the only factor weighing on migrants flocking to our border.
“Their plans to migrate depend much more on the conditions that they’re experiencing in their home, in their home countries, and then what they’re hearing about, whether that’s from smugglers or from others in their social networks, about who’s being able to cross the border at the moment,” Bolter said.
Kate Huddleston, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement Abbott’s plan is “unlawful” and threatens to harm families at the border, creating trauma for young kids.
“Abbott is also undermining the right to seek asylum by jailing those fleeing danger and punishing them for seeking refuge in the U.S. Additionally, Abbott’s proposed border wall will harm border communities and the environment,” Huddleston’s statement reads. “In this plan, Abbott is yet again scapegoating immigrants in an effort to distract from his own failures in governing and managing actual crises in Texas — like the historic winter storm that led to the deaths of more than 150 Texans — with cruel results.”
The timing of Abbott’s announcement is interesting, too.
Weeks earlier, former state senator and Dallas real estate developer Don Huffines announced as Abbott’s first Republican primary challenger in 2022. His campaign promise is to build a wall along Texas’ southern border with Mexico.
Jim Henson, the executive director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, said he’s interested to hear more details of how Abbott plans to build the wall but isn’t surprised by the announcement.
“I’m not surprised to see that the governor trying to take the lead and carry the banner of border security and controlling undocumented immigration given that it is a real policy problem right now,” Henson said.
Enforcement of immigration laws is the responsibility of federal, not state, law enforcement officials. And when it comes to the state building a wall, Jason Finkelman, an immigration attorney, said Abbott could face additional regulatory hurdles.
“I think Abbott’s likely to face issue of federal environmental regulations. I think there’s the issue of taking private Texas landowners’ land and raising tax money of Texas taxpayers to do this,” Finkelman said. “So, it’s a little puzzling, without all the details right now, how in fact he intends to construct a border wall in Texas.”