By Anna Biaritell
Gov. Greg Abbott’s promise to finish former President Donald Trump
Furious about the 21-year high in illegal immigration at the 1,950-mile southern border, Abbott vowed in mid-June to bolster the state’s border in an effort to prevent continued drug and human smuggling.
Texas has more international border than fellow border states Arizona, California, and New Mexico. The Texas-Mexico boundary stretches for 1,241 miles, but just 145 miles of it has any sort of substantive fence or wall, according to federal planning documents from Trump-era wall projects and information provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Abbott wants to put up a wall on the remaining 1,100 miles. At an average cost of $20 million per mile, it is a tall order — even for the massive state of Texas.
The southern tip of Texas is roughly half the distance for Central American migrants traveling from Mexico’s southern border than if they traveled to California, making it a far quicker and cheaper journey for migrants. Consequently, Texas has seen more than half of all illegal immigration at the 1,933-mile border since the start of the government’s annual year in October 2020.
Migrants have far fewer issues getting across the border in Texas than in other states because just 12% of the land has any sort of government-funded barrier to block people from entering. Recognizing that, the Republican governor put a $250 million down payment toward the project and hired a program manager to begin planning where a wall should be built.
The other 55 of the 145 miles were installed during the Trump administration. Congress funded wall projects each year between 2017 and 2021. The White House wanted more than Congress was willing to give and cited a national emergency in order to take unrelated money from the Defense Department. In total, 280 miles of wall totaling $3.2 billion was planned for Texas, but builders could not complete 235 miles worth of projects by the time Trump left office in January.
The 55 miles of barrier that were put up under Trump stand at least 30 feet tall and are made of slatted steel beams. Because more than a dozen projects were not finished before Biden canceled them this spring, bits and pieces stand up and down the border, including the western region of El Paso, the southeastern region of the Rio Grande Valley, and the Del Rio region in south-central Texas. Portions stretching no more than a couple of miles pop up on the border near busier ports of entry, but for the most part, Texas is wide open with only ranch fences in many parts.
Where most illegal immigration happens in Texas
In fiscal year 2021, more than 897,000 people have been stopped on the southern border for attempting to enter the country illegally from Mexico. More than half of all illegal crossings took place in Texas.
The Rio Grande Valley sees more people cross than any other part of the Mexican border. Here, along the 320 miles near the Rio Grande that divides the two countries, 271,000 noncitizens have been encountered between October and May, primarily children and families.
To the west are the Laredo and Big Bend regions. Together, 195,000 people have been apprehended here, primarily Mexican adults and people from countries beyond Central America, including Bangladesh, Haiti, and Venezuela. Big Bend is extremely remote and has been seen for a long time by CBP as an area that is not a priority for wall-building because the desert itself deters people from attempting to cross. However, agents have seen more traffic coming through this region.
The final 90 miles of western Texas and all of New Mexico are under Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector. The office does not distinguish in its data if migrant apprehensions were in Texas or New Mexico. It reported 113,000 total apprehensions so far this year.
Where new wall may go first
The total of more than 700 miles of wall that the Trump administration had planned to install came in at approximately $15 billion, an indication that Texas could be on the hook for potentially $22 billion if costs follow that trajectory. The wall system that had been funded in recent years included paved roads, camera towers, lighting, and technology.
Given that most human smuggling takes place in southeastern Texas, the state might start filling in small portions of land between existing walls there. But Texas may face problems getting control of the land, which it needs before it can build. There is no precedent for a state taking land to build an international boundary.
Part of the delay with building a wall in Texas under Trump was obtaining privately owned and protected federal land in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo. The U.S. government is likely to own a significant amount of land on the international border, so Abbott would have to purchase it from Washington, D.C., but given the Biden administration’s opposition to the border wall, it could choose not to sell it to him.
In its quest to control the private land, Texas could use a process known as eminent domain, which occurs when a government compensates a landowner in exchange for private land. The U.S. tried that approach under Trump, and it is still in the midst of legal battles with Texas landowners who refuse to sign away their land. Abbott said during a press conference on Thursday that officials are already talking with landowners who may be willing to volunteer their land for construction, possibly signaling where his administration may be eyeing to first move in the excavators.