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Governor Abbott authorizes $250 million down payment for Texas border wall

Published: Jun. 16, 2021 at 9:28 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 16, 2021 at 9:49 PM CDT
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AUSTIN, Texas (KCBD) - Governor Greg Abbott made several new announcements on Texas’ efforts to build a wall on the southern border with Mexico; including a $250 million down payment, and a letter to President Biden demanding land obtained by the Trump administration for a wall be given to the State.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Speaker Dade Phelan, Senate Finance and House Appropriations Chairs Jane Nelson and Greg Bonnen, and members of the legislature including Lubbock’s District 83 Representative Dustin Burrows, joined Governor Abbott for the press conference on Wednesday in Austin.

Abbott opened by claiming an increase of border encounters and single adults attempting to cross the border in the month of May are “a direct result” of the Biden administration’s change in border policies and abandonment of President Trump’s border wall.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, total encounters by U.S. Border Patrol in May increased by more than 1,200 percent since 2020. However, this year’s encounters surpassed 2019′s total by less than 40,000, and total enforcement actions reported for May of 2021 were lower than May of 2019.

“We know that temporary barriers and fences won’t be enough to slow the flow of immigration that’s coming into our state,” Gov. Abbott said, “That’s why today, we are announcing that Texas is building a border wall in our state to help secure our border.”

To oversee the wall’s construction, the Governor signed a letter calling on the Texas Facilities Commission to hire a project manager. On top of identifying contractors and subcontractors for the project, this manager, Gov. Abbott says, will identify state land, as well as “land that private landowners and local governments can volunteer for the wall.”

Land to build on remains an issue for the Governor’s border wall, as a part of today’s conference Abbott signed a letter to President Joe Biden, “demanding” the federal government return state land that was taken by the Trump Administration to build the wall. Governor Abbott says the land should be returned, as the Biden Administration “has made clear the federal government will not move forward with building the border wall at this time.”

Once returned, Governor Abbott says the state will talk to property owners about the possibility of using that land to build the wall.

Governor Abbott mentioned the recently passed budget passed by the Texas legislation, breaking a state record adding more than $1 billion to border security. Abbott says the federal government is not meeting the responsibility at the border, so “Texas taxpayers are having to step up.”

The Governor, Lt. Gov. Patrick and others at the conference authorized an initial down payment for the border wall of $250 million, to hire the project manager and begin construction.

The $250 million down payment will be coming from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, according to a letter from Gov. Abbott, signed by Lt. Gov. Patrick, Speaker Phelan, as well as Chairs Nelson and Bonnen, to TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier.

Issues of funding raised questions to Governor Abbott about recent issues regarding ERCOT and summer power, following calls for conservation amid concerns from unexpected outages with ERCOT equipment failures when power use surged as temperatures rose.

Abbott reiterated ERCOT’s call for conservation efforts to reduce power use between the hours of 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., saying conservation, as well as legislation signed last week and repairs to the power system, have ERCOT “fully prepared” for Texas’ summer heat. Abbott closed remarks on ERCOT saying, “the energy grid in Texas is better today than it’s ever been.”

Governor Abbott announced last week, in a podcast interview released Tuesday, the state will be soliciting donations from across the country to help fund the wall along the border.

A donation page has been set up where citizens can donate to the wall’s construction. Abbott says the fund is being maintained by the Texas Division of Emergency Management.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick spoke briefly at the conference on the increase of enforcement actions at the border this year, saying there’s no way of knowing how many make it into the country and are never caught. “What do you do with a 14-year-old boy from Central America who doesn’t speak English, who’s three grade levels behind? What does he do when he gets to America and they just let him go free?” Patrick asked. “This is a fight for our survival.”

Lt. Gov. Patrick closed his statements comparing the current situation at the Texas border to an “invasion.”

House Speaker Dade Phelan told those gathered the border situation is a “security crisis” and a “humanitarian crisis,” adding he will be giving responsibilities to committees of the House of Representatives to hear from Texans living on the border about their experiences with illegal immigration.

As part of the new policy, Governor Abbott says those apprehended through “Operation Lone Star,” will not be turned over to federal officials, but locked up in Texas jails. Operation Lone Star is an initiative started by Abbott in March redirecting Department of Public Safety troopers and National Guard resources from across the state to “high threat areas.”

Governor Abbott is also calling for more officers and resources, joining Arizona Governor Doug Ducey in a letter requesting “available law enforcement resources to their states along the U.S.-Mexico border” from other governors. The letter states Abbott has already deployed to the border “a thousand troopers” from Texas DPS and “hundreds of soldiers” from the Texas National Guard.

This raised concern over incarcerated populations in Texas, a state that has historically held high incarceration rates with one of the largest prison systems in the world, according to the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. The latest statistical report released by the Texas department of Criminal Justice in 2019, stated more than 122,000 people were in custody in the State.

In today’s conference, Abbott told those assembled he had found about 1,000 jail beds to be used.

Governor Abbott says initiatives like Operation Lone Star have been used in the past, “flooding the border with law enforcement officials and National Guard.” According to Abbott, this year’s operation has led to “the arrest of 1,500 criminals, as well as to the apprehension of more than 35,000 people who came across the border,” since it began in March.

After the initiative began, Abbott says it was determined the operation would not be as effective as previous attempts because he claims turning them over to federal officials resulted in those who were apprehended being released.

The Governor’s recent disaster declaration regarding the border directed the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to coordinate with included counties and request from the Office of the Governor “any necessary suspensions of law, in order to ensure that the counties have the flexibility needed to establish adequate alternative detention facilities.”

Wednesday’s conference follows a border security summit held by the Governor in Del Rio, where Governor Abbott held private sessions with stakeholders to discuss collaborative strategies between state government, local city and county officials, law enforcement, and landowners.

Governor Abbott’s announcement at the summit included creation of the “Governor’s Task Force on Border and Homeland Security,” consisting of members from the Office of the Governor, the Office of the Attorney General of Texas, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the Texas Military Department, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement and the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

According to Governor Abbott, this task force “will analyze and advise on strategies to stem the flow of unlawful immigrants and illegal contraband into Texas and the United States.”

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