Texas House approves additional $2 billion for border security as state moves to build border wall

A portion of the newly-erected border fence that is being constructed by the state on private property in Del Rio on July 23, 2021.
A portion of the newly-erected border fence that is being constructed by the state on private property in Del Rio on July 23, 2021.

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The Texas House approved nearly $2 billion in additional funding for border security operations, giving Gov. Greg Abbott more state dollars to implement his plans to build a border wall and incarcerate migrants for state criminal offenses in an effort to deter migrants from coming to the state.

Lawmakers gave final approval on Monday to a funding bill by a vote of 85-36 that would triple what the state allocated for border security during the last biennium. The bill now moves to the Senate. The $1.88 billion appropriated by House Bill 9 is in addition to the $1.05 billion lawmakers approved for border security this spring.

“There’s a crisis on our southern border with serious consequences extending throughout our state,” said Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, who authored the bill. “Texas must respond to the crisis that has been brought to our doorstep.”

In June, Abbott announced Texas would build a state-funded border wall to decrease the number of migrants entering through its border with Mexico. Earlier this year, the two-term Republican governor launched Operation Lone Star, an effort that directed state military and police resources to the border to aid local and federal authorities fighting the smuggling of people and drugs across the border.

Abbott, who is seeking reelection next year, had previously said he expects the state to build hundreds of miles of wall along the state’s 1,254-mile border with Mexico, but had not specified where the wall would be or how much it would cost.

This week, his director of budget policy, Sarah Hicks, told lawmakers the governor’s office would receive $1.02 billion from the funding bill for border security grants. Of that money, $750 million would be reserved for the construction of a physical barrier along the border. That’s in addition to a $250 million “down payment” the state put on the border wall this summer.

Hicks said the Department of Public Safety has identified 733 miles of border where some kind of barrier may be necessary. She also said the total cost of the wall may exceed $1 billion, but the governor’s office thought it was a “reasonable place to start.”

The state has already started building some border security projects. In June, it awarded a $25 million contract for a nearly 2-mile concrete barrier along State Loop 480 in Eagle Pass. That project is set to be completed by the end of the year.

Abbott’s office has also started an online fundraising effort to receive donations for the border wall. In two months, that effort has raised nearly $19 million.

State Rep. Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, tried to push Bonnen for performance criteria that the state would use to determine the efficacy of the state’s spending on border security.

“This is obviously a big expenditure for the state of Texas,” Anchía said. “What performance metrics did you look at in the construction of a wall as a valid intervention?”

Bonnen said he did not have hard numbers but agreed to add a reporting requirement under one of his amendments to the bill. Bonnen, however, said the testimony from border sheriffs who say they are overwhelmed by the increase in migrants moving through their jurisdictions and property owners who say they fear staying in their homes was enough incentive for the state to act.

He said he hoped the additional funding for border security would lead to a reduction in immigrant apprehensions at the border and a better ability for law enforcement to identify the people moving through the border. He added that he hoped to see less criminal activity in border areas.

It’s unclear what effect a wall and increased state presence could have on the number of apprehensions. Many migrants attempt to cross the border multiple times, and the number of repeat crossers has jumped from 5% of those apprehended in 2019 to 40% this year, according to the American Immigration Council, a Washington, D.C., a group that advocates for immigrants. Part of the reason repeat crossings have exploded, immigration experts say, is President Donald Trump’s policy — continued under Biden — of immediately expelling migrants after they’re apprehended.

Lawmakers tacked on an amendment by Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, that would bar the state from using eminent domain to acquire land from property owners for the border wall.

The House also added an amendment to allocate $28 million to reimburse border counties for costs incurred for holding migrants in jail and for autopsies done on migrants.

Lawmakers, however, knocked down an amendment that would have included training on how to handle crimes of sexual violence and human trafficking for the law enforcement agencies being deployed to the border. Officials testified in committee that some migrants are sexually assaulted while migrating.

The Texas Military Department will receive $311 million to pay for the deployment of 1,800 additional Texas National Guard soldiers to the border, bringing the number of soldiers sent to the border to 2,500. The Texas Military Department has also been designated as the leader on construction of temporary fencing that’s part of Abbott’s efforts.

The Texas Department of Public Safety will receive $154.8 million to provide for 79 special operations troopers to be deployed to the border, 52 weeks of overtime pay for border operations and six tactical patrol vessels.

The bill will also give the Texas Department of Criminal Justice $273.7 million to convert three state detention centers into jails to hold migrants caught up in Operation Lone Star. The funding will also pay for $250 million the state shifted earlier this summer from the department’s 2023 budget toward a border wall “down payment” fund.

The bill also includes money for the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and the Department of State Health Services to ensure standards in state prisons that are being converted to jails to house migrants and to provide funding for ambulance contracts needed for the border security efforts.

Bonnen said he hoped the federal government would reimburse the state for the money it is spending on border security, which Abbott has designated a state disaster in several counties. He said the border wall was not a “singular option” that would decrease the number of migrants at the border, but he hoped it would make a dent in combination with other factors.

Bonnen also pointed to Democratic border sheriffs who supported the bill in committee and asked the state to help their overwhelmed departments deal with the increase in migrants in their counties.

“They’ve asked for help, and today we are going to step forward and give the help they need,” he said.

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