Texas governor: State, crowdsourcing will fund border wall

The border fence and levee passes through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Hidalgo, Texas on Feb. 7, 2017.

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that he will use $250 million in state money and crowdsourced financing to build more barriers along the U.S. border with Mexico, part of an emerging proposal that also extends his political fight over immigration with the Democratic Biden administration.

But questions remain over how far Abbott, a Republican, can go for a project whose total cost, length and timeline are unclear and could face legal challenges from the federal government.

Over a dozen Republican members of the Texas House and Senate joined Abbott for a livestreamed press conference announcing his intentions to hire a project manager to continue constructing some version of a wall announced last week, echoing former President Donald Trump's unfinished campaign promise to fortify the southern U.S. border, of which 1,200 miles (1,930 kilometers) is in Texas. Abbott also said he is asking the federal government to return land obtained for the U.S. government's wall and return it to private citizens who can allow Texas to finish the job.

“In response to the federal government’s neglect of all of the people who live along the border, the people who are facing the consequences of the spread of drugs like fentanyl, Texas is stepping up and doing more than any other state ever has done to respond to these challenges along the border,” Abbott said. “Texas taxpayers are having to step up so we as a state can protect our citizens."

State Sen. Jane Nelson, chair of the state Senate Finance Committee, said in the press conference that the $250 million in state money — that Abbott referred to as a down payment — was being allocated as authorized under emergency orders. She did not clarify where the public money came from originally, but in a letter released later by Abbott's office the governor said said it would come from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's budget.

The state also has set up a webpage and post office box so anyone can donate money for Abbott's wall.

Large numbers of migrants have been showing up at the U.S. border with Mexico, with many turning themselves over to U.S. Border Patrol agents in seeking legal asylum status. But the numbers of families and children traveling without their parents crossing into the U.S. have dropped sharply since March and April, while the encounters with single adults have remained high.

Abbott, who is up for reelection next year and has hasn't ruled out a run for president in 2024, has taken increased action over immigration since Biden took office, including sending more state police and national guardsmen to the border to arrest people entering the country illegally or cartels trafficking illegal drugs. On Wednesday Abbott said jails are looking for additional bed space to house the rising number of people being arrested.

Abbott has also asked other states for help, and Wednesday, Florida's GOP governor, Gov. Ron DeSantis, heeded that call, announcing he would send law enforcement from his state to Texas and Arizona, where fellow Republican Doug Ducey has also requested help from other states.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Legal experts say the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear that the power to enforce immigration law is in the hands of the federal government, including striking down efforts by Arizona Republicans a decade ago.

President Joe Biden suspended construction of a border wall upon taking office, and his administration recently announced a plan to divert funding from what was former President Donald Trump’s signature project. Trump's project is more formidable than barriers it replaced, but it isn’t uncommon for smugglers to guide people over or through it. Portions can be sawed with power tools sold at home improvement stores.

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Acacia Coronado is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.