STARR COUNTY, Texas (Border Report) — A remote 1.7-mile section of the state-funded border wall is still under construction in rural Starr County near the small border town of La Grulla.
The wall is 30 feet tall and is being built using surplus supplies from Trump-era border wall contracts that were halted by the Biden administration.
Before the wall is completed, Texas lawmakers must consider paying for border security initiatives currently in place, specifically the $4 billion state-funded Operation Lone Star.
During a Texas Senate Finance Committee hearing on border security spending this week, Vice-Chairman Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa called Operation Lone Star a “bottomless pit” and questioned whether taxpayers can continue to fund it at the current rate.
During Tuesday’s six-hour marathon hearing, Hinojosa repeatedly asked state officials to explain how much money has been spent already on Operation Lone Star and the state-funded border wall and whether more will be needed when the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
The hearing was held in Austin after reports that the Justice Department is investigating Operation Lone Star.
“I want the public to understand the challenges we are facing on border security in taking on some of the responsibilities the federal government has failed to address,” said Hinojosa, a Democrat from the border town of McAllen. “I’m very much concerned about the money. I don’t think quite frankly this can continue forever but at some point, we need to find a way to manage the situation as best as we can but continue to pressure the federal government to do its job. As a state, ourselves, the amount of money we’re spending on border security and the amount of people coming across is like a bottomless pit and I’m very concerned about that.”
The numbers presented by the Legislative Budget Board were astronomical, and Hinojosa said at times he became frustrated and confused over whether the funds will run out before the Legislature convenes in January when lawmakers can vote on new budgets.
Texas National Guard Adjutant Gen. Thomas Suelzer testified that $1.35 billion more will be needed for the Fiscal Year 2023 to maintain current National Guard troop operations.
Sarah Hicks, budget and policy director for the Office of the Governor, said the funds are being well spent and were part of previous border security packages approved by the Texas Legislature.
She said an initial $250 million was given to fund the state-built border wall.
“The long-term protection will come in the form of barriers, however, until barrier can be constructed we must rely on a significant and visible law enforcement presence to dissuade those who consider breaking the law,” Hicks testified.
But Hinojosa said that at the current spending rate, the 805 miles of border wall that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wants to build would cost $17 billion and take 34 years to complete. And he said he doesn’t think the state can afford it.
He also complained that the money spent “keeps shifting” and said independent sources have told lawmakers that spending has already topped $5 billion for border security.
“I have not seen a set of numbers that don’t move around,” Hinojosa said.
“The real problem is the flow of immigrants, it appears, are not being deterred by the billions that we’re spending if 18,000 per day are coming over,” said State Sen. John Whitmire, a Democrat from Houston told the committee.
Committee Chairwoman Sen. Joan Huffman, a Republican, defended the mission of Operation Lone Star.
“Securing our national border is a federal responsibility. We’ve said that from the beginning but we, the state, simply don’t have the resources to take on 100% of our security forces indefinitely. But until the federal government steps up to ensure long-term security, we have a duty to act to support effective border security, combat illegal immigration and foster lawful immigration,” Huffman said.
Abbott reports that since Operation Lone Star begin in March 2021, there have been over 274,000 migrant apprehensions and 16,700 criminal arrests.
There were over 5,000 apprehensions during the 4th of July weekend alone, Huffman said.
Hicks said that $55 million in private donations have been received to help build the border wall, which Abbott wants to extend for hundreds of miles.
And $116,000 in private donations have been received to help bus migrants to Washington, D.C.
She also said the state has spent $1.5 million on 121 trips to the nation’s Capitol carrying 4,428 migrants from 28 countries.
Abbott last week also announced that DPS troopers and Texas National Guard would arrest and start busing migrants to the border ports of entry.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com