AUSTIN, Texas – $ 788 million approval this month by Texas lawmakers to build a barrier along the Texas-Mexico border, along with $ 54 million raised in private donations to achieve that goal, would seem a major victory for Gov. Greg Abbott, who had pressed for border security.
But federalism, landowners ’rights, and environmental concerns could dampen Abbott’s vision before the first shovel touches the ground, analysts and legal scholars said.
The Republican governor proposes the wall and supports other conservative issues, such as eliminating all abortions in Texas and tightening voting restrictions, with a view to re-election as governor next year and a possible 2024 presidential election. , said Mark Jones, a Rice University politician. scientific.
“Being strong at the border is a winning theme in Texas, as long as you play well,” he said.
Abbott announced plans to build a Texas wall in June as the number of arrests on the southwestern border by federal agents continued to rise. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials found 212,672 people trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in July, up from 188,9934 in June. This is the largest number they have seen in nearly two decades, according to border patrol statistics.
Immigration analysts have said migrants are fleeing poverty, violence and the devastation of natural disasters in their home countries, as well as hoping to take advantage of President Joe Biden’s approached approach to immigration. Within days of taking office in January, Biden reversed many of former President Trump’s immigration policies. Biden’s rules allow undocumented children to enter the U.S.; eliminating the “Rest in Mexico” program, which required most immigrants to stay in Mexico to wait for their immigration hearings; and stop the construction of the border wall.
According to statistics, almost a third of those who arrived at the border this summer (around 27%) were repeat cruisers.
Abbott has pointed to Biden’s immigration policies as the main motivators for building the wall. The state wants to build about 733 barrier miles (more than half the state’s 1,254-mile border with Mexico) to curb the flow of undocumented cruises, Abbott’s press secretary Renae Eze said in an email answer to US questions TODAY.
Abbott announced plans for a border wall after convening a border security summit in Del Rio, Texas, in June, which attracted police officials, municipalities and counties and local homeowners, according to press releases.
Earlier this month, Texas lawmakers passed a $ 1.8 billion border security law that included $ 788 million for border barriers. Abbott also launched a private donation to raise money for the wall that amassed $ 54 million in August alone.
“The Biden administration has relinquished its responsibilities to secure the border and Texans suffer from it,” Abbott said in a statement in June announcing plans for the wall. “Texas is doing more than any state has ever done to protect the border, but of course more is needed.”
But the U.S. Constitution clearly states that border security is a federal responsibility, which could be used to derail Abbott’s efforts in court, said Carlos Evaristo Flores, a Laredo lawyer who has represented landowners. of Texas near the border in lawsuits against the federal government.
In addition, federal regulations allow the federal government to bypass environmental laws, such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, to begin construction along environmentally sensitive border sections, Flores said. . But state officials are not entitled to these exceptions, he said.
Ultimately, Abbott’s office will have to acquire private land to build a Texas wall, because most of Texas ’border with Mexico is in private hands. The federal government has been tied for decades to lawsuits with Texas landowners to acquire land and build border barriers.
Abbott administration officials have said they plan to erect the wall only on land where landlords willingly allow construction. More than 90 landowners have agreed to put temporary fences on their property, while the state hires a program manager to direct the planning and execution of the border wall project, Eze said.
“Border security is not a red or blue issue: it is a public security issue,” he said.
But Flores sees it more as a political issue: Like Trump before him, the Abbott Wall proposal is a way to use the border to gain political points, he said.
“It has become fashionable to identify a problem at the border, we say the problem is the border, so an elected official can run for office,” Flores said. “It’s not based on reality.”
Even if the state erects border wall sections on the land of ready-made jeans, how it manages or is involved in the implementation of the structure should raise serious legal and constitutional concerns, said Denise Gilman, professor University of Texas clinic at the Austin School of Law and co-director of the UT Immigration Clinic.
“It’s starting to look a lot like a state government enforcing immigration, which it can’t do under constitutional law,” he said.
All of this is being unloaded for Abbott’s primary re-election and general election to be projected next year. Abbott’s approval ratings have plummeted after a difficult year in which a winter storm destroyed power to 4.5 million homes and killed more than 200 people and the coronavirus returned to roar, infecting about 20,000 people a day. About 60,000 jeans have died of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.
A poll released last week by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin showed that 50% of Texans reject Abbott’s actions and 41% approve, the lowest approval rating for the six-year term. d’Abbott.
“It’s been a very unpleasant summer in Texas and it’s been a very tough year,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project. Texas Republicans “have responded to this by duplicating their conservative policies.”
Experts have also mentioned Abbott’s name as a potential Republican candidate in the 2024 presidential election, along with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. However, unlike DeSantis, Abbott could take advantage of the debate on border security, which is key for conservative voters, Jones said.
“He may have presidential aspirations or not,” he said. “But politically, it benefits him to have his name on the mix … even if he decides he doesn’t want to.”
Follow Jervis on Twitter: @MrRJervis.