About that southern border wall in Texas… Is it just a campaign issue?

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is using every action he can in his attempts to secure the Texas border with Mexico. Left largely to fend for themselves by the Biden administration, Abbott made an announcement during a Border Security Summit in Del Rio on Thursday. Abbott said that if Biden will not do the federal government’s job of securing the southern border, he will begin building a wall.

Biden put a halt to construction on the border wall when he came into office. During his very first day as president, Biden canceled border wall construction contracts by executive order. Biden’s knee-jerk reaction to Trump’s border wall plans sparked harsh reactions from border communities as the border crisis continues to escalate. The administration soon began to moderate their language about wall construction. By April the talking point became that Biden wants to plug the holes left from a sudden stop in construction. In May it was announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will restart wall construction in the Rio Grande Valley, including repairs.

Governor Abbott said during his announcement Thursday that he will present his plans for border wall construction on the Texas border next week. A bill to revive Trump’s efforts to build a border wall was scuttled in the Texas state House and never discussed in the state Senate. A wall was not part of Abbott’s legislative priorities. Some Republican legislators were frustrated.

“With well over 100,000 illegal immigrants crossing the open Texas border last month, I don’t understand how this isn’t a top priority,” Rep. Bryan Slaton, a freshman Republican from Royse City, lamented to a conservative news outlet in April, saying House leaders had refused to give his border wall bill a hearing.

Biden’s border crisis continues to grow. The governor has used the tools available to him to bring the border under control. Now there is an escalation that if the federal government won’t do its job, Texas will have to do it. One immediate question that has arisen is how will Texas pay for border wall construction? Abbott said in an interview on Friday that there are options, including the possibility of crowdsourcing to raise money for it. That brings up memories of the story of Trump supporters beginning a crowdsourcing campaign to raise money for Trump’s wall only to have it shut down over charges of fraud against the organizer. No one wants that mess to happen in Texas. There is money available that was approved by the Legislature – not specifically for wall construction but for border security.

The Legislature has already approved a record $1.1 billion in funding for border security over the next two fiscal years to cover the costs of state trooper patrols.

The only available state dollars are about $11 billion in the rainy day fund, or nearly $16 billion in federal stimulus that is set to be allocated this fall in a special legislative session. The federal funds, however, have a number of strings attached to them and it’s unclear whether the House and Senate would agree to use those dollars for the wall.

There is little doubt that the Biden administration will fight Texas over wall construction. The federal government supersedes the state government on immigration. We can count on lawsuits being filed to put a stop to Abbott’s plans, likely from some landowners on the border who do not want to succumb to eminent domain issues. Abbott said that he met with about 100 landowners and asked for a show of hands of those interested in working with the state on using their property. The governor said more hands rose than he could count. If push comes to shove and the Biden administration pushes back on Abbott’s plans, the federal government wins.

Abbott is up for re-election. Border security and illegal migration are top issues in Texas politics, even in elections years that don’t include a record number of illegal migrants flooding the border, as is the case this year. Abbott is being challenged in the Republican primary by former state Senator Don Huffines who is running to Abbott’s right. Huffines has pledged to finish the border wall in Texas. Perhaps this is more of a campaign issue than it is a real solution for the state.

Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said the payoff for Abbott may be more in selling the idea than completing it.

“It’s hard to see what the governor is intending here in policy terms,” he said, noting that the governor is preparing for what could be a difficult primary challenge from Republicans as he seeks reelection next year. One of his opponents, former state Sen. Don Huffines, has already pledged to finish building the border wall.

“It may be about politics, at least as much as it is about public policy,” Jillson said.

There is no doubt that Abbott is sincere in searching for solutions to the border crisis. The burden to the state and its border communities is monumental. This is an easy campaign issue for Republicans, especially given the Biden administration’s denial that a crisis even exists. Abbott’s frustration with the administration is understandable. He is running out of options. It’s easy for a primary challenger to promise to finish the wall, whether it is a viable option or not. We’ll see how this plays out next week when Abbott puts out his plan.

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