McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Reaction from South Texans to Gov. Greg Abbott’s plans for building a border wall around the state was swift and harsh on Wednesday, and several people told Border Report they believe it’s an unnecessary expense and inaccurate portrayal of what’s really happening on the Texas-Mexico border.
“It’s total bluster,” said Melissa Cigarroa, president of the board of directors for the Rio Grande International Study Center and a founding member of the Laredo No Border Wall Coalition. “What a waste of taxpayer dollars. What a waste of his focus and energy in pouring resources into this ridiculous idea.”
“He should not get distracted and focus on the electrical grid. With 100-degree temperatures, that is Texans’ most important urgency,” U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat from McAllen, told Border Report immediately following Abbott’s announcements.
Flanked by state lawmakers inside the Capitol on Wednesday in Austin, Abbott announced that the state would spend $250 million in seed money and hire a project manager to survey and plan how it can successfully erect barriers along its entire 1,254 miles it borders with Mexico.
“The problems that people are suffering on the border continue to get worse for residents who live in that region and for all regions,” Abbott said.
“Carnage is being caused by people coming across the border; fences are decimated; border farmers are losing crops; homes are invaded; neighborhoods are dangerous; and people are threatened on a daily basis with guns,” Abbott said. “The border crisis we’re dealing with right now is a direct result of the open border policies put into place by the Biden administration.”
Abbott said that immediate “barriers” are going up “as we speak.” But he admitted these were “temporary” fixes, and he said “Texas is stepping up” to build permanent border walls.
However he did not detail how the state would pay for such a massive infrastructure. The federal border wall — a pet project of former President Donald Trump — has cost an average of $26 million per mile to build — and up to $41 million per mile in some canyons in Arizona.
Many migrant advocates are worried that Abbott is using the border wall as a way to separate families, like Trump did in 2018. If adult migrants coming with children are arrested and jailed, as Abbott has proposed, then their children will likely be held in separate child facilities, away from their parents.
“It’s clear that Gov. Abbott is following Trump’s playbook. It’s no coincidence that all this is happening in the same month that he also announced a visit with him and former president, Trump,” said Dani Marrero Hi, director of communications for the nonprofit civil rights group La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE.) “He’s copying Trump’s playbook of manipulating and tapping into American’s imagination of what they believe the border to be, which is so disconnected from reality.”
He’s copying Trump’s playbook of manipulating and tapping into American’s imagination of what they believe the border to be, which is so disconnected from reality.”Dani Marrero Hi, LUPE
“From the banks of the Rio Grande River, in Hidalgo County, Texas, we reject and deny, without reservation, the false claims Gov. Abbott has made about our community — about all communities on the border — as well as his claim to care about residents of la frontera,” National Butterfly Center Executive Director Marianna Trevino Wright said.
Wright’s organization has been involved in a lawsuit against a private border wall adjacent to its property in Mission, Texas. Now she fears additional border wall segments could spring up along the river, putting local landowners at risk.
“Moreover, as long our property and that of our neighbors remain in the crosshairs of conniving government officials, we will not cease to shine a light on the trite border wall scam and advocate for border security initiatives that represent more than opportunistic grifts and delusional fantasies,” she said.
ACLU of Texas staff lawyer David Donatti called Abbott’s plan “heinous and harmful policies and political theater of the Trump administration.”
“Abbott wants to manipulate laws and charge people coming across and separate them from their children. It’s all a manipulation of existing politics to try to advance his political power,” Marrero Hi said.
LUPE members and other civil rights activists on Tuesday converged upon Hidalgo County Commissioner’s Court to urge Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez not to sign a local disaster declaration, which is key to Abbott’s plans for increasing border security and would allow additional jailtime to be imposed on migrants who cross any barrier illegally.
Abbott last Thursday during a Border Security Summit he held in Del Rio, Texas, announced that he wants to charge anyone who crosses the Rio Grande illegally with criminal trespassing and hold them up to 180 days in jail. But his plan is contingent upon border counties declaring disasters relating to the immigration surge in order to level elevated charges against the migrants.
Cortez told Border Report that during a private meeting the governor held Thursday with county judges from 34 affected border counties at the summit, that Abbott referred to it as a “fence,” not a border wall.
Cortez said he asked Abbott if his plan would cause the separation of families.
“I received literally hundreds of emails of people concerned that arresting some of these adults would end up in separating families so I asked him,” Cortez said. “I told him many many people were concerned that some of this would lead to family separations, and his simple reply was: ‘There will be no family separation. Period.'”
His simple reply was: ‘There will be no family separation. Period.’”Gov. Greg Abbott told Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez
Cortez has not signed the disaster declaration, nor have several other South Texas counties.
But on Monday, Zapata County Judge Joe Rathmell, whose rural county is about 100 miles west of Hidalgo County, did, telling Border Report that the county is hurting for funds and needs additional law enforcement resources, which Abbott is promising to deliver.
But Cigarroa and Trevino Wright point out that Abbott does not have the ability to waive federal environmental laws, which the Trump administration did, and so they both on Wednesday questioned how Abbott would be able to get federal approval, and that of the International Boundary and Water Commission, which oversees riverfront lands, to build such a large infrastructure.
“They can’t use the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and say, ‘Oh, by the way, we need your plans for the State of Texas.’ It doesn’t work like that,” Cigarroa said.
It’s “a desperate attempt to deflect from his on-going failures to protect the people of Texas from an array of ills,” Trevino Wright said. “Too bad for him the good people of this great state have long memories.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.