$2B TX Border Wall Bill Wins House Approval
At the end of last week, members of the Texas House were reported to have approved nearly $2 billion in additional funding for the construction of the Texas-Mexico border wall.
“There’s a crisis on our southern border with serious consequences extending throughout our state,” said Republican Rep. Greg Bonnen, who authored the legislation, also known as House Bill 9. “Texas must respond to the crisis that has been brought to our doorstep.”
The approval of funding, which was reached in a 81-38 vote, is slated to triple the state’s allocation for border security during the last biennium.
Texas-Mexico Barrier Background
While Gov. Greg Abbott has been the primary leader in pushing for the project’s funding and completion, others following the saga could say that the determination to complete the project has been ongoing since President Joe Biden announced that the project was paused following his inauguration.
In March, Republican Texas House Rep. Bryan Slaton presented new legislation regarding the relaunch of construction on the U.S.-Mexico border wall and other border security enhancement projects within the state.
The House Bill No. 2862 claims that it would create a fund to pay for the projects—including planning, designing, constructing and maintaining transportation and water infrastructure along the Texas portion of the border wall—and would allocate the earnings on the balance of the fund and reimbursement of related expenditures.
H.B. 2862 also intends to pay for technology and commercial vehicle inspection facilities along ports of entry and prohibits the clearing of indigenous plants, unless overridden by certain state or federal authorities.
According to the legislation, contractors incorporated in Texas or who maintain their headquarters or principal office within the state would be given priority in awarding contracts. In addition, the proposed bill stipulates that the governor of Texas would seek reimbursement from the federal government for amounts spent from border wall project funds.
However, if passed, reports indicate that the legislation could struggle with receiving those reimbursements. In May, Congressman Clay Higgins, a republican from Louisiana and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security, became the second lawmaker to introduce legislation for restarting construction of the border wall system.
At the time of its introduction, the Finish the Wall Act reportedly had more than 60 cosponsors and is one of the House Republicans’ five pillars to address what they deem the Biden border crisis. According to a report by Bloomberg, in April, roughly 172,000 migrants were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border—more than the nation has seen in two decades.
Regardless, the plans for the wall haven’t come without backlash. In a statement to The Washington Post, Kate Huddleston, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said that Abbott’s plan “threatens to once again rip families apart at the border,” adding that the governor was “undermining the right to seek asylum by jailing those fleeing danger and punishing them for seeking refuge in the U.S.”
There was no mention if Mexico would be involved in the project with Texas.
Later that month, Abbott was joined by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and more than two dozen Texas lawmakers, in signing off on the authorization of several actions to address immigration—including the state-led border wall project—and aid overwhelmed border law enforcement.
With his $250 million down payment in place and plans in the works, Abbott also authorized state officials to begin the search for a program manager for the border wall, opened a donation portal for the project and called on landowners willing to volunteer their properties for construction. Additionally, Abbott sent a letter to Biden requesting that all land taken by the federal government for border wall construction under Trump be returned to landowners.
By the end of the month, Abbott issued a disaster declaration regarding the immigration crisis, which he plans to use to fund and construct the project. In addition, the project plans to receive funding through a crowdfunding campaign that asks citizens to donate.
At the end of July, the Texas Facilities Commission announced its intent to seek a project manager for the construction of the border wall following its assessment of resource requirements.
One issue the project expects to face, however, is land parcels that are privately owned. According to the Texas Tribune, a lawsuit against the federal government filed by Texas landowners whose land was claimed through eminent domain is currently on hold.
And earlier this month, the Texas Department of Transportation announced that it would be paying $25 million for the construction of a roughly two-mile-long concrete barrier.
Slated to be constructed in Eagle Pass, the project is also calling for a temporary fence near the right-of-way along State Loop 480, which the Department of Public Safety has reported to be a high-traffic area for immigration.
The Texas Tribune reports that the fence will cost the state $280,000, while the rest of the $25 million will be used to clear vegetation and construct the concrete barrier.
Reports have indicated that funds for the contract are being taken from TxDOT’s maintenance division budget, but that the department anticipates a reimbursement. However, no information has been released regarding where that money would come from.
Construction on the barrier is slated to reach completion by December.
In a recent Texas House vote, legislators approved an additional $1.88 billion for border wall security. The funding arrives in addition to the $1.05 billion lawmakers had approved for border security earlier this spring.
According to Abbott’s Director of Budget Policy, Sarah Hicks, $750 million of the combined received funding is to reserved for the construction of a physical barrier, which is in addition to a $250 million “down payment” the state had already put down for projects this summer.
Hicks added the Department of Public Safety has identified 733 miles of border where some kind of barrier could be necessary. She also said the total cost of the wall may exceed $1 billion, but the governor’s office thought it was a “reasonable place to start.”
In breaking now how the newly approved funding would be spent, the Texas Tribune reports that the Texas Military Department would receive $311 million to pay for the deployment of 1,800 additional Texas National Guard soldiers to the border, bringing the total to 2,500. The Texas Military Department has also been designated as the leader on construction of temporary fencing that’s part of Abbott’s efforts.
In addition, the Texas Department of Public Safety will receive $154.8 million to provide for 79 special operations troopers to be deployed to the border, 52 weeks of overtime pay for border operations and six tactical patrol vessels. The legislation also outlines $273.7 million for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to convert three state detention centers into jails to hold migrants caught up in Operation Lone Star.
Reports also say that the new funding will be used to ensure standards in state prisons that are being converted to jails to house migrants and to provide funding for ambulance contracts needed for the border security efforts by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
The funding bill must receive one more vote of approval from the House before heading to the Senate.