This week, as Texans were asked to increase their thermostats, unplug electronics and avoid doing laundry loads that could tire out the fragile electricity grid of our state, Governor Greg Abbott decided that the real vulnerabilities in the infrastructure were a few hundred kilometers away.
“Texas will build a border wall in our state to help secure our border,” Abbott sang on Wednesday, surrounded by cheers from Republican lawmakers eager to revive Donald Trump’s border crusade.
Abbott is undoubtedly playing politics with his ridiculous bet on Texas building its own border wall, a half-baked wall, Go-Fund-Me effort that should make all Texans cringe. Yet Abbott’s acts of political theater on the border, advancing his 2022 reelection bid and possible White House aspirations, have costly implications.
Although he invites private donations for the wall, the governor is using real taxpayer money – taking $ 250 million from the state prison budget – to kickstart the movement, starting by hiring a project manager . At his request, officials have emptied Dilley State Prison, about an hour’s drive southwest of San Antonio, so the facility can be used to detain immigrants who enter fenced areas or commit other transgressions – with Texas taxpayers also funding this lockdown.
Governor Greg Abbott:Texas to build border wall amid “unprecedented crisis”
And while Abbott says he wants to work with Texans keen to make a donation their land for a border wall, many landowners along the border have fought such a project for years – meaning Texas would face years of costly litigation if it attempted to make a border wall a reality. By the end of the Trump administration, the federal government was mired in lawsuits with more than 215 owners in the Rio Grande Valley who refused to allow a border wall across their property, according to the Texas Civil Rights Project.
Texas has the largest stretch of borderless border with Mexico for good reason. The meanders of the Rio Grande are not easy to get around. Doing so in some areas would block the flow of wildlife and cause flooding, probably violating a 1970 treaty which requires the Rio Grande floodplain to remain open on both sides of the border. Erosion has wreaked such havoc on a privately funded stretch of wall in Mission that experts said last year the wall was in danger of collapsing. And large swathes of Texas border regions – from the breathtaking cliffs of the Santa Elena Canyon to the merciless terrain of the Chinati Mountains and the Chihuahuan Desert – have formidable natural barriers that render man-made ones unnecessary.
Trump never understood any of this. But the governor of Texas does.
Nonetheless, Abbott is moving forward with a project that would be exorbitantly costly – $ 26.5 million per mile in parts of Texas, according to federal lawmakers. Yet, as this editorial board has repeatedly pointed out, a border wall cannot arrest the majority of immigrants who are here illegallybecause these are people who came to the United States legally and then exceeded their visa. This will not stop the vast majority of illegal drugs, which are seized at monitored entry points, no people sliding across borders without walls. And that will not prevent migrants from arriving and making their legal asylum claim, which the courts end up settling.
We recognize that the peak of border crossings in recent months has strained communities in South Texas. Sheriffs and ranchers describe human trafficking on an unprecedented scale: Daily high speed chases of coyotes, the destruction of fences and pastures, the discovery of the bodies of those who perished during the exhausting trek. It is clear that the administration of President Joe Biden did not do enough to handle the problem.
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The question Abbott faces is whether to reach out to the federal government in an effort to help, or whether to exploit the situation for its own political gain. Sadly, he chose the latter. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick went even further, declaring without merit that ‘we are overrun’ – echoing the language of the gunman who shot and killed Hispanic shoppers in a Walmart in El Paso in 2019.
This is not the way to go to make Texans safer.
Instead of biting at Biden’s heels with a rival plan for border security, Abbott should attend to the needs of the Texans. We have an electrical network who failed in february, killing hundreds of Texans, and even now the grid is struggling to meet the state’s energy demands. We have the highest rate in the country and the most people without health insurance. We have a network of highways, dams and dikes that have obtained a “D” grade in this year’s infrastructure report card by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The governor should focus on these issues and the needs of all Texans, instead of backing his political ambitions with an unnecessary border wall.