“Only Congress and the president can fix our broken border,” Abbott said in front of a crowded room of supporters. “But in the meantime, Texas is going to do everything possible, including beginning to make arrests, to keep our community safe.”
Abbott, one of the most vocal Republican critics of Biden’s handling of the southern border, offered few details in a plan that would revive President Donald Trump’s plan to complete a border wall. He said that more information on “building the border wall in the state of Texas” would be provided next week, which prompted a standing ovation.
“The ability to arrest will be enhanced by building border barriers,” he said. “Anybody who tries to modify, attempt or get through any of these border barriers — that unto itself is a crime for which they can be arrested.” He added, “We will be arresting a lot more people in the future.”
Whether Mexico would be involved in any possible border-wall project with Texas remains unclear. Though Trump had long insisted Mexico would pay for his border wall, the project, more than 450 miles of 18-to-30-foot steel-bollard fencing, was funded entirely by the U.S. government, at nearly $30 million a mile.
Neither the White House nor Jesús Ramírez Cuevas, a spokesman for Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, immediately responded to a request for comment Friday.
Laredo, Tex., Mayor Pete Saenz (D), who was part of a Thursday session where the governor framed his plan to leaders, told The Washington Post that Abbott at least twice described the wall initiative as more of a “fence” rather than a wall. Saenz supports Abbott’s push for increased border security but said he and the city remain opposed to any barrier being built.
“This wall business has been extremely divisive,” said Saenz, whose city is about a mile from the border. “Our position as a city is: no wall, no physical structure.”
The governor’s announcement about the wall and the increase in arrests, which were decried by legal advocates as “unlawful,” comes as border arrests have soared during the early part of the Biden administration. U.S. Customs and Border Protection data published Wednesday shows illegal crossing at a new 20-year high, with American authorities intercepting 180,034 migrants along the Mexico border in May.
The release of the CBP data followed Vice President Harris’s visit to Guatemala this week when she warned would-be migrants considering an unlawful trip to the United States to “not come.” Harris was criticized by some Democrats who considered the warning too harsh, while GOP lawmakers faulted her for not visiting the U.S. southern border.
Abbott has repeatedly touted his actions on immigration and border security in recent months, often blaming migrants or the Biden administration for issues at the southern border. In March, when he said the state would entirely scale back its coronavirus restrictions, Abbott tweeted that Biden allowing “hundreds of illegal immigrants who have COVID into Texas communities” was the reason the virus was spreading statewide. Last week, he ordered the state to pull the licenses of shelters and foster-care programs that provide care to unaccompanied migrant children.
Kate Huddleston, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, told The Post in a statement 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.”
“Abbott is yet again scapegoating immigrants in an effort to distract from his own failures in governing and managing actual crises in Texas — like the historic winter storm that led to the deaths of more than 150 Texans — with cruel results,” Huddleston said.
The governor said his “enhanced border security plan” would arrest anyone “who enters our state illegally and is found trespassing, engaged in vandalism, criminal mischief or smuggling.” Saenz told The Post it was his impression that Abbott “understood the fence was going to be damaged, but that’s exactly what he wanted.” (Abbott did not specifically describe this in his announcement.)
He also announced the creation of a task force on border security, as well as his intention to sign an interstate compact with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) that would call on states to assist in arrests by sending resources such as drones and helicopters.
“It’s not the red carpet the federal administration rolled out to them,” Abbott said, referring to migrants. “They’re going to jail in the state of Texas.”
Saenz claimed that tens of thousands of arrests in Laredo have “primarily been Mexican nationals evading Border Patrol.” Even though the city is opposed to a border wall, he stressed Friday that something had to be done.
“We remain open to hearing more information because there’s definitely a problem at the border,” Saenz said. “If the federal government is not doing it, then someone has to do it.”