[EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated following Monday’s news conference.]
LOS INDIOS, Texas (Border Report) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott named a “border czar” for the state during a media news conference on Monday afternoon where construction crews are building the second segment of the state-funded border wall in South Texas.
Abbott said the new Texas border czar position is “a full-time job that requires a leader whose only focus is responding to President Biden’s open border policies.”
He has named former Border Patrol Agent Mike Banks, who served for 23 years in the agency, including in the Rio Grande Valley, Arizona and California. He also served a decade in the military.
“I’m humbled. I really am,” Banks told Border Report after Abbott’s announcement. “I’m very passionate about securing our border and so I’m completely humbled and grateful for the opportunity Greg Abbott has given me. The governor is very serious about securing Texas’ border and I’m excited about this opportunity.”
Banks will work “for the state of Texas and report directly to me,” Abbott said.
Abbott said Banks will office in the town of Weslaco, in the Rio Grande Valley, and “travel frequently up and down around the street as needed.”
One of his biggest jobs will be to assist in the state-funded border wall by encouraging more private landowners and local buy-in to secure borderlands for the 30-foot-tall border barrier to be built.
Abbott wants to build hundreds of miles of border barrier to fill in the border wall gaps that were left after the Biden administration halted border wall construction that had started under former President Donald Trump.
“As long as we can get property owners to allow us to build that would be the hope — to connect,” Banks told Border Report.
“We’re not gonna stand idly by while the Biden administration refuses to enforce the immigration laws as our borders are,” Abbott told a gaggle of reporters Monday afternoon assembled beneath a towering, yet small section, of the state border wall that is being built in rural farm fields in the tiny town of Los Indios, Texas, in Cameron County.
This section is slated to be 1.5 miles long and will cost $25 million per mile, Abbott said in response to a question from Border Report.
“The reason why this wall is located here and the reason why you will see other segments of well placed in different locations around the state is because we are putting wall up where we get the land rights from the land owner to be able to build a border wall. Most of the land on the border is private property. And we have to get the rights when the private property owners to build a border wall in those segments. You’ll see more of these going up,” Abbott said in response to a Border Report question.
Border Report last week visited the site and spoke with locals who said they had not been consulted on the border wall, and were unaware how long the segment will be once completed.
Rick Cavasos, an alderman and former mayor of Los Indios, told Border Report that city officials had not been invited to the governor’s event, but he said he spoke with Banks afterward, adding that Banks is already setting up meetings with locals and wants to work with them on their questions and concerns.
Cavasos also served decades as a Border Patrol agent in the Rio Grande Valley, and said this particular area where the state border wall is being built was left open in order to funnel irregular migration into the fields and away from the small town, population 1,000.
Border Report asked Abbott if that was taken into consideration and concerns of the locals that migrants would not be forced toward town once the section is complete. The governor responded that will be a key job of the new border czar: “You raise a question about concerns of this community about migrants going around the wall into the community. For one thing, the border czar will work with local officials to address their concerns. He knows because we’ve already talked about this one of his first responsibilities is to work with the mayor in this community to make sure that we are addressing their safety needs. That also is the same role that the Texas Department of Public Safety has. We want to make sure that the surrounding community will be protected as safe as possible. But also we will be hoping that neighboring landowners in this region will allow us to be able to build a wall on their property,” Abbott said.
“No governor is dedicating more time and energy and effort in terms of public safety, Homeland Security and border security than Gov. Greg Abbott,” Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told media.
Maj. Gen. Thomas Suelzer, Adjutant General of the Texas Military Department, said Abbott has launched an “unprecedented effort to secure the border and prevent, detect and interdict transnational criminal activity along our border.”
Suelzer said currently the state has put up over 130 miles of border barrier — including 72 miles of eight-foot-tall fencing with razor wire and 58 miles of concertina wire
The State of Texas, so far has only built 1.7 miles of 30-foot-tall steel bollards in Starr County, 70 miles west, plus one-third of a mile that currently is being built in Los Indios.
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat from McAllen who represents this region, told Border Report that Texas is wasting taxpayer funds building its own border wall.
“It’s just another one of Abbott’s usual political circus stunts on the border, at a monumental cost to taxpayers. He has spent hundreds of millions of state taxpayer dollars along the border and he has had zero impact in slowing migration to Texas,” Gonzalez told Border Report on Monday.
The Texas Facilities Commission, the state agency overseeing state border barrier contracts, said during its Jan. 19 meeting in Austin that it has awarded a total of over $855 million worth of border wall contracts. The agency says it cannot put bids out to build more border wall until the Texas Legislature approves more border security funds.
Texas Facilities Commissioner Eddy Betancourt, of Mission, Texas, is the only commissioner from the Rio Grande Valley and he accompanied Abbott to visit the state border wall on Monday
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com