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Texas lawmakers approve $1.5 billion for construction of walls, other barriers on southern border

Migrants who crossed into the U.S. from Mexico are met with concertina wire along the Rio Grande, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas.
Eric Gay
AP Photo
Migrants who crossed into the U.S. from Mexico are met with concertina wire along the Rio Grande, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas.

Texas lawmakers gave a final stamp of approval on Friday to legislation that would provide an additional $1.5 billion for state border security efforts, including construction of walls and other barriers on the southern border.

The legislation, Senate Bill 3, now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk and brings the total funding the Republican-led legislature appropriated for border security over the next two years to more than $6 billion.

The measure, by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, includes $40 million that can be used by the Texas Department of Public Safety for its operations at the border during Operation Lone Star, a state-led border security mission that started after Biden took office and has already cost the state billions of dollars. That portion of the money can also be used by the state police force to increase patrols in Colony Ridge, a development in Liberty County in southeast Texas that Republicans alleged was overrun by unauthorized immigrants and a haven for crime.

The allegations were disputed by Colony Ridge CEO John Harris and Abbott’s own Texas DPS director, Steve McCraw, who said crime in the area was lower than in some other areas of the state, including Austin. The funding was added, nonetheless.

Most Democrats opposed the funding bill and said the money should instead be used for things like education or health care, adding that walls and other barriers aren’t effective in slowing illegal migration.

A representative from the Texas Facilities Commission, the state agency overseeing construction of the border wall, told lawmakers in October the state is spending between $25 million and $30 million for every mile of the wall. As of a few weeks ago, the state had only built about 12 miles of wall after Abbott initiated the state project more than two years ago.

“Most of us who live on the border do not want militarization and from experience, we scoff at physical walls," state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said during a floor debate last month. "For we know too well that for every wall, there is a taller ladder, an underground tunnel, and a wrecking ball."

But Republicans, at Abbott’s urging, argued the money was a smart investment and necessary due to what they called President Biden’s open-border policies.

The legislation was amended once to add language that allows some of the funds to go toward grants for local governments and law enforcement agencies to help with some of the costs associated with increased border enforcement.

The legislation is part of a package of bills Abbott ordered lawmakers to pass this fall during special sessions of the Texas Legislature. Other proposals include a bill that increased penalties for people convicted of operating stash houses or human smuggling. That measure has been signed by the governor. A separate bill awaiting Abbott’s signature makes unauthorized entry from a foreign country a state crime and allows local law enforcement to arrest a person suspected of illegal entry. That bill will likely be challenged in federal court.

Got a tip? Email Julián Aguilar at jaguilar@kera.org.You can follow Julián on Twitter @nachoaguilar.

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Julián Aguilar | The Texas Newsroom