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Thomas Gallatin / June 16, 2021

Texas Border Wall a Long Way Off

Federalism, acquiring property, and funding will prevent any construction on a wall for some time.

Texas wants to do what Joe Biden and his administration refuse to do — put a stop to the nearly unchecked massive numbers of migrants illegally surging across the U.S. southern border. In that vein, Governor Greg Abbott last week declared that the Lone Star State “will immediately begin building border barriers in areas where migrants can easily cross the Rio Grande border with Mexico.”

Abbott further justified the decision by noting that “the influx cross the border is out of control, and the Biden administration has shown that [it] is not going to step up and do its job.” So, he continued, “Amidst reports of even more people coming in across the border, we know we have to step up and do more.”

Abbott’s concern is legitimate and his commitment to action is admirable, yet the “how” of the matter may prove to be very difficult. The crux of the issue is the long-running back and forth inherent within a federalist system, which has plagued U.S. immigration enforcement over the last two administrations.

Immigration enforcement has rightly been regarded as under the purview of the federal government — with notable exceptions. State and local governments reacted against the federal government when Donald Trump was president with the whole sanctuary city business. Before that, with Barack Obama and now with Joe Biden, red states like Texas pushed to unilaterally enforce U.S. immigration laws within their own states due to the feds’ lack of response.

Even with those examples, there is simply no precedent for Texas’s action here. Furthermore, there’s the question of funding, as Texas would have to acquire private and public property along the border in order to build — a prospect that has both private property implications as well as financial considerations. As the Washington Examiner notes, “Part of the delay with building a wall in Texas under Trump was due to unforeseen difficulties in obtaining privately owned and protected federal land in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo.”

Indeed, Texas would not be purchasing most of this land from private citizens; rather, the owner of most U.S. border land is actually the federal government. In other words, Texas would be having to purchase land from the federal government, currently operating under the Biden administration. Just how eager would Biden be to sell land to Texas for the express purpose of building the very border wall Biden campaigned against as immoral and cruel?

Finally, if Texas is successful in acquiring the property, how will it fund the cost of building a wall? The most recent border wall construction cost was roughly $20 million per mile. By the time even the first post was set, years will have likely passed, due to legal wrangling and funding concerns. So, while we’re in complete agreement with Governor Abbott’s desires, the likelihood of border wall construction beginning anytime soon seems highly unlikely.

(Footnotes: Remember all those Hispanic-heavy border county elections Republicans just won? Border security is popular. Second, former President Donald Trump is set to visit the border at Abbott’s invitation later this month. What’s the over-under on him beating Kamala Harris there?)

Update 6/17: On Wednesday, Abbott announced a $250 million down payment on the wall.

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