87th LegislatureFederalImmigration & BorderIssuesState HouseState SenateTaxes & SpendingBorder Security Funding Receives Bipartisan Support as Texas Border Wall Takes Shape

In the coming weeks, the Facilities Commission is expected to finalize arrangements with the border wall program manager.
September 14, 2021
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In April 2014, at an event in Manchester, New Hampshire, Donald Trump introduced one of the earliest versions of his pledge to construct a wall separating the United States and Mexico when he said, “I would build a border like you’ve never seen before.”

Seven and a half years, 450 miles of wall construction, and two presidential elections later, the border wall remains a feature in Texas politics — both as a campaign issue and a policy measure — and funding for it has even received support from both parties.

Governor Greg Abbott, during a contentious Republican primary marked by accusations of inaction on the border crisis, announced a state-financed wall at a June summit in Del Rio in light of extraordinary levels of illegal immigration.

He even began a crowdfunding campaign for the initiative, which has raised $54 million as of September 7.

“President Biden’s open-border policies have led to a humanitarian crisis at our southern border as record levels of illegal immigrants, drugs, and contraband pour into Texas,” Abbott said at the time.

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Now, with more than $1.02 billion in new funding from the legislature and the Texas Facilities Commission’s recent selection of a project manager, the plans for the construction of some form of a Texas border barrier are underway.

Some might say Abbott, who Trump has endorsed for reelection, is picking up where the federal government left off.

In the final months of the Trump administration, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a statement on the effectiveness of the border wall system it had built up until that point.

DHS called the barrier that existed when former President Trump took office in January 2017 “neglected, easily compromised, and sparsely constructed.”

“Deploying the wall system in high priority areas — particularly urban areas where illegal border crossers can quickly vanish into the surrounding community — allows the [United States Border Patrol (USBP)] to decide where border crossings take place, not smugglers, and the USBP can deploy personnel and technology in complement to the border barrier,” the department wrote on October 29, 2020.

With regard to the Rio Grande Valley border patrol sector specifically, the statement read, “Smugglers are now forced to take their groups further west into areas that are less dense with brush and easier for [United States Customs and Border Protection] surveillance cameras to detect illicit activity.”

Much of the quibbling over the wall has been about what it may symbolize. Proponents generally view it as an expression of America’s sovereignty and right to decide who comes and goes. Opponents see it as displaying a spiteful or even racist sentiment.

However, aside from ideological concerns, the tactical benefits of the border wall include helping control where illegal crossings occur, reducing the need for border guards in certain areas, and increasing the likelihood of apprehending smugglers by redirecting their smuggling attempts to ports of entry, where they are more easily detected.

Though the Trump administration built about 450 miles of the border wall, Biden stopped construction almost as soon as he moved into the White House. Since then, his administration has been focusing on philosophical changes to the country’s immigration policy and environmental problems linked to the border wall.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who is vying for the Republican nomination for state attorney general, filed a federal lawsuit in July accusing the Biden administration of violating the Administrative Procedures Act by “illegally preventing the border wall from being constructed.”

The case is in the pretrial phase before Judge Micaela Alvarez in McAllen and is scheduled for an initial conference on November 16, according to federal court records.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, the New York Post reported that border guards have resorted to blocking holes in the wall using large tires and other construction supplies left behind when Biden ended wall construction.

The Biden administration, though it has criticized the cost of Trump’s border wall project, has proposed spending $4 billion over four years on “address[ing] the root causes of migration in Central America,” including $891 million in the coming fiscal year. The White House has also asked for $1.2 billion for border security infrastructure, stipulating that it should not be used for a wall.

Hoping to increase funding for border security efforts, Abbott added it as an item on the agenda for the second called session of the Texas legislature. 

Much of the special session was lost to the Democrat-orchestrated quorum bust over the Texas Election Integrity Protection Act; however, in the limited time they had, legislators passed House Bill (HB) 9 by Texas House Appropriations Chairman Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood).

The appropriations bill, which is awaiting Abbott’s signature, adds $1.02 billion directly to trusteed programs within the office of the governor for border security grants.

Like many Republicans, Bonnen is concerned about trafficking and cartel activity on the southern border during the “unprecedented volume of illegal alien apprehensions.”

“Texas must respond to the crisis that has been brought to our doorstep and protect Texans’ [lives] and property,” Bonnen said on the House floor. “We have never turned our back on a humanitarian crisis and now is not the time to do so.”

According to a Texas Senate press release, $750 million of this funding will be used “to build walls, barriers, and temporary fences along the Texas-Mexico border.” Abbott previously moved $250 million as a “down payment” for his border wall project.

In view of the fact that vast stretches of Texas’ southern border remain without a barrier, Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Steve McGraw told the Senate Finance Committee that the state intends to construct barriers on 733 miles of the southern border.

Opponents of the funding, such as Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso), have characterized it as unnecessary and resist the idea that the southern border is a crime-ridden region that needs such urgent spending on security. 

“Efforts like this will be weaponized and be used to demonize people who look like you and me,” Moody said on the House floor when HB 9 was being debated.

However, there has been frustration on both sides of the aisle with President Biden over his handling of illegal immigration since the beginning of his administration.

Democratic Sheriffs Joe Frank Martinez of Val Verde County, Eusevio E. Salinas of Zavala County, Benny Martinez of Brooks County, and Danny Dominguez of Presidio County all testified in favor of HB 9 before the Texas House Appropriations Committee. Republican Sheriff A.J. Louderback of Jackson County also voiced his support.

Despite the bill’s funding for the Texas border wall, it passed the legislature on a bipartisan basis. The Senate approved HB 9 by a vote of 23 to eight, with Sens. Chuy Hinojosa (D-McAllen), Beverly Powell (D-Burleson), Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville), John Whitmire (D-Houston), and Royce West (D-Dallas) joining their Republican colleagues to vote aye.

HB 9 prohibits Abbott from using eminent domain to build a border wall with the funds appropriated by the act. In addition, statements by Abbott’s office suggest that land could be donated.

“Once hired, the program manager and contractors will identify state land and land that private landowners and local governments can volunteer for the wall,” the Office of the Governor wrote in a press statement shortly after Abbott made the announcement.

The Texas Facilities Commission (TFC) stated on its website on September 3 that a joint venture between engineering companies Huitt-Zollars and Michael Baker International, Inc. was the “top respondent” to be the program manager.

A communications specialist for TFC, Luca Francoise, told The Texan on Monday, “We will present a recommendation to the Texas Facilities Commissioners for a contract award on Thursday, September 16, 2021.”

Francoise added, “The Generic Procurement Timeline posted to the website on July 22, 2021, remains active, and TFC will update the schedule as the process continues to move forward.”

A copy of the general procurement timeline can be found below.

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Hayden Sparks

Hayden Sparks is a reporter for The Texan. He has coached high school competitive speech and debate and has also been involved in community theater and politics. A native Texan, Hayden served as a delegate at the Republican Party of Texas Convention in 2016. He is on track to receive a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Liberty University. In his free time, Hayden is known to take walks around the neighborhood while listening to random music on Spotify.