Texas Governor Greg Abbott wants to “build the wall”. Self. Somehow.
Pretending to pick up where former President Donald Trump left off, Abbott has announced a plan for Texas to build its own border wall and arrest migrants who try to climb it.
But given the myriad of practical and legal concerns that could hold the project up – from fundraising to confiscating private property to the state government’s limited immigration powers – it’s unclear whether it will actually make it.
But in a way that may be secondary: His rhetoric alone may have served its purpose of addressing his right-wing base before his re-election campaign and the 2022 mid-term elections.
The Trump administration built about 450 miles of barrier on the US-Mexico border, but most of it was in Arizona. To complete the wall along the Texas border, Abbott made a $ 250 million “down payment” from state disaster relief funds and crowdfunded nearly another $ 500,000 through June 23, the project, which is estimated by the Federal government could cost up to $ 46 million per mile in some sections of the border.
Although polls have shown that Texas Republican voters overwhelmingly support the project and view border security as one of the state’s top concerns, Abbott is likely to face a number of obstacles in court. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) has already threatened legal action, suggesting he is exceeding his executive powers. In the past, landowners on the border were unwilling to give up their land to build the wall, which also led to protracted legal disputes there. And while Abbott has suggested that state law enforcement agencies arrest migrants attempting to break the wall for criminal trespassing, a legal precedent suggests that it will not hold.
However, the governor is not deterred by these potential challenges and says he is determined to complete the project.
But even if he fails to build a single mile of wall, he has already used the project against the Biden government as it is struggling with an increase in the number of children and families arriving on the southern border.
“The Biden government has given up its responsibility to use federal laws to secure the border and enforce immigration laws, and Texans suffer from this neglect by the Biden government,” Abbott said. “In the absence of the federal government, Texas is going to get the job done.”
It’s not clear if Abbott can legally build the wall
There are many questions as to whether Abbott’s project is even legal.
First and foremost, immigration policy is a matter for the federal government, not the state governments. The US Congress has the power to pass immigration laws, the executive has wide discretion to enforce those laws, and federal courts have historically avoided interference.
While Abbott has argued that he is stepping in to fill an immigration enforcement loophole that the Biden administration has left open, he may be overstepping his powers as governor.
“I can understand Governor Abbott’s frustration with the lack of immigration reform in the federal government as a whole,” said Democrat Eddie Treviño Jr., district judge in Cameron County, Texas, which borders Mexico. “But that’s a federal question. And the way to the solution would be to work collaboratively and cooperatively at the local, state and federal level. ”
LULAC has indicated that it is considering asking a court to prevent Abbott from continuing the project, calling it “a huge waste of taxpayers’ money and very likely illegal.” “I don’t see that he is empowered to do what he’s trying to do without the approval of the federal government,” said Rodolfo Rosales, LULAC’s Texas state director.
It’s also not clear whether Abbott can use disaster funds to pay for the wall under Texas state law. He declared a disaster for 34 counties in the state last month as unauthorized immigration at the border had increased recently, freeing up resources to solve the problem and allowing him to expose state laws and regulations that all solutions would hinder.
But the limits of his powers have been challenged in the recent past, including in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, when he invoked the same powers to shut down businesses last year.
And the current levels of illegal immigration may not really represent a “disaster.” While officials reported that the number of arrests of migrants at the border in May was almost eight times that of the same month last year, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the actual number of migrants trying to cross the border is higher.
These numbers don’t take into account the fact that there has been an increase in adults caught multiple times trying to cross the border due to guidelines enacted during the pandemic. In 2020, 26 percent of migrants arrested by Border Patrol were caught more than once, compared with 7 percent the previous year.
Critics argue that Abbott only used the Declaration of Disaster to get the state legislature finalized to build the wall. “A governor should not be able to bypass the legislative process by making such matters emergency and then taking whatever action he wishes,” Rep. John Turner (D-Dallas) told the Texas Tribune. “When a governor can begin such a long-term, hundreds of million dollar public works under the guise of emergency powers, it is difficult to know the limits of those powers.”
Abbott will also almost certainly face opposition from private landowners on the border who have already fought both the Trump and Biden administrations in court to prevent the federal government from confiscating their land to build the wall . There are more than 130 ongoing cases filed by property owners, according to the Texas Civil Rights Project, a legal aid organization that represents them.
“Resistance to property take-offs in the state is a big part of conservative culture here,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas Austin. “It was an obstacle to a lot of different things, including infrastructure and railroad construction.”
Abbott, however, appears to believe that these landowners will change their minds and willingly give up their land. “My belief, based on conversations I’ve had before, is that the combination of state land and volunteer land will add up to hundreds of miles to build a border wall in Texas,” he said.
Abbott’s plans to arrest migrants at the border on various criminal charges, including trespassing and vandalism, would likely pose legal challenges if implemented.
Abbott has threatened to “long-term jail” such migrants, but there is no legal precedent on its side: the 2012 Supreme Court prevented Arizona Republicans from trespassing migrants in a similar fashion that states the Immigration cannot enforce law. However, it is possible that the 2012 ruling could be overturned with several new Trump-appointed judges at the court.
Abbott’s push for a wall is as much a political stunt as it is an actual project
The adoption of a border wall by Abbott and the Texas GOP appears to be part of their strategy for the 2022 midterm elections. Abbott is also up for re-election in 2022, but some have also suggested that he could run a candidacy for president in 2024.
The Texas Republicans appear to be appealing to their right-wing base to fend off potential major challengers. There is little concern that Democrats in general are committing a serious crime as the party’s promises to make Texas turn blue have not been fulfilled in 2020.
Republicans in the state also recently passed law aimed at firing their base, which has removed handgun permission and an effective ban on abortion. And Abbott’s agenda for an upcoming special session of the state legislature includes other issues related to border security, voting restrictions and preventing the teaching of critical racial theory in schools.
“It’s hard not to conclude that Republicans are very focused on the 2022 primaries in the short and medium term,” said Henson of the Texas Politics Project. “I don’t sense much concern from Republicans about the general election right now. And that’s reflected in a Republican public agenda and communication strategy that is moving ever further to the right. The wall is the epitome of this. ”
The Texas Democrats have also said that Abbott’s wall project is a distraction from its failure to resolve the Texas electricity grid problems after a catastrophic winter storm that left millions of people cold and without electricity for days – an issue that is on its agenda for one upcoming special session of the state parliament.
But despite resistance from border counties and Democratic officials, the majority of Republican voters in Texas support building the wall: about 74 percent, according to a recent poll by Dallas Morning News and UT Tyler.
“Nothing dominates the Texas Republican public opinion like immigration and border security,” Henson said.
But the Texas GOP’s decision to accept anti-immigrant rhetoric as an overt medium-term strategy could potentially be risky – and one that previously backfired on Republicans nationally.
In 2016, immigration was seen as an issue that helped mobilize white resentment voters, as well as some swing voters in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, in favor of Republicans. It was a top motivational topic, with 70 percent of voters saying immigration was “very important”, more than Supreme Court appointments, racial relations, the environment and abortion. Views on immigration also represented one of the biggest gaps between the people who voted for Trump and those who voted for Hillary Clinton.
The strategy had limits, however, as revealed in midterms 2018, when Trump fueled fears of an “invasion” of migrant caravans and foreign “criminals” and “smugglers” while trudging for Republican candidates nationally. Republican pollster David Winston later concluded that the party’s focus on immigration, rather than the then strong economy, cost Republicans a majority in the House of Representatives that year and undermined their support among the Independents. Democrats, who instead focused primarily on healthcare, took back 41 seats in the House of Representatives.
However, that is not to say that the strategy cannot work for the Republicans in Texas, who have consistently pursued anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric aimed at fueling fear of disorder at the border.
“It didn’t harm them in the same way,” said Henson.