Gov. Greg Abbott announced Thursday the state of Texas will take over construction of the border wall and that all trespassers caught on the state’s southern border will be prosecuted and jailed as his efforts to counter President Joe Biden administration’s border policies continue to expand.
Abbott made the announcement during a border summit his office convened in Del Rio. The gathering came after the governor declared a disaster declaration for 34 counties on or near the Rio Grande on June 1 in response to what he called the Biden administration’s “open border” policy. El Paso and Hudspeth counties are included in the declaration.
Abbott didn’t provide key details on the border wall construction, including where the project will start, how much it will cost, how it will be funded, or how eminent domain will affect the planning. He only said an announcement will come next week.
On the state charges, which he added will also include smuggling and criminal mischief, he said he’ll task the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to create more detention space.
“We will be arresting a lot more people in the future so more jail space will be required,” he said to raucous applause.
State Sen. César Blanco, D-El Paso, said he’s curious to find out where funding for the border wall will come from as nothing in the state’s 2022-2023 budget passed just last month is currently allocated for the project.
“Who’s going to pay for it?” Blanco asked. “There is nothing (in the budget) for the border wall and Texas taxpayers already spend more than $1 billion a biennium on border security.”
“My guess is he may call a special session that includes this separate from a redistricting special session and separate from the other items that Republicans are calling for,“ he said.
On the immediate arrests and prosecution, Blanco said Abbott needs to make sure his proposed policies don’t violate long-standing laws and procedures on asylum. Requesting asylum is a legal means of entering the United States.
“He’s got to be mindful of constitutional rights. Some of these folks are asylum seekers, some of these folks are children fleeing a county where there is violence,” he said. “He needs to comply and abide by the Constitution. As a former state’s attorney general he knows that, so he needs to be careful with that approach.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas said Abbott’s announcement echoes the extreme measures of the Trump administration, whose “zero tolerance” policies separated immigrant parents from their children after they crossed the border.
“As we saw under President Trump, separating families by prosecuting parents creates lasting trauma for vulnerable young children and for their parents,” Kate Huddleston, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “
Abbott said his plan to prosecute migrants who trespass will depend on local cooperation and county judges, district attorneys, sheriffs and others should be on board.
El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles said he’d have no choice but to accept migrants in his jail if they are arrested.
“I must accept all legal process from a magistrate regarding (the) arrest or commitment of an individual accused of a crime, “ he told El Paso Matters.
Cover photo: The border wall at the end of Anapra Road near Sunland Park, N.M., just east of the Santa Teresa Port of Entry. The steel bollards in this area are, at minimum, 18 feet high. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)