More than 1,000 miles of wide-open space await former President Donald Trump on his upcoming visit to the Texas-Mexico border. Gov. Greg Abbott says he will plug the cavernous gaps by completing the wall that Trump started.
Under the Republican governor’s executive order, temporary fencing began going up this month. But while admirable, the scale of the Texas project is daunting, unprecedented, and perhaps impossible.
In four years, the Trump administration completed less than 100 miles of border wall in the Lone Star State, leaving more than 1,000 miles unsecured. Unlike the wall in Arizona, much of which was completed on public land, Abbott’s venture faces enormous eminent domain obstacles, as well as financial hurdles that may prove insurmountable.
Make no mistake, we need the wall built and kudos to Abbott for attempting to do so. Not only is it a visible, physical symbol that America upholds its sovereignty and its right to maintain a rule of law, it’s a frontline defense against the bad guys, and that doesn’t mean just illegal aliens but increasingly, narcotics smugglers, cartels and terrorists. A proper wall at least slows down the flow at the source. It’s a lot more than nothing, which is what this administration seems to want.
A sovereign nation has both the right and the responsibility to limit immigration and control its borders by maintaining a regulated line of geography.
In Texas, skeptics have questioned Abbott’s commitment to the wall. Saying little about it during Trump’s tenure, he did not invest any political capital to support a wall-building bill at the state Legislature. That measure died this spring, and lawmakers adjourned.
Now Abbott has formed a task force (a favored political device) to meet every two weeks. He has not unveiled any strategies to kick-start the state’s notoriously cumbersome public-works bureaucracy. So much for a sense of urgency.
The $250 million the governor announced as a down payment for the wall won’t go far in the Texas desert, where construction costs could run north of $20 million a mile. So he set up an online crowd-funding page, Borderwall.texas.gov (which, not coincidentally, looks like a campaign website).
All of this raises the inevitable question: Is this wall project real, or merely a political ploy to buy time and head off conservative challengers to Abbott’s 2022 re-election bid?
Ultimately wall construction must also come with a willingness to enforce federal immigration laws in the U.S. interior. All the brick, mortar, wood and wire in the world won’t keep people out if we don’t stop the incentives to come in the first place. A fence is only one component of a strategy to control illegal immigration. A wall without meaningful interior and workplace enforcement would have only a marginal effect.
In addition to a physical barrier, America needs policies that make it clear to people who are thinking about coming that there’s no reason to come – no jobs, no drivers licenses, no in-state tuition, no sanctuary cities and no honey pot of benefits. There is no reason to go under, over or through any fence if on the other side there are no jobs and stiff penalties if you get caught. Those disincentives are really the strongest layer of protection to our physical barriers.
The weakest part of our immigration crisis isn’t the lack of a fence; it has been a wobbly will in Washington to enforce existing laws. Whatever Abbott’s motives are for trying to building the border wall, his efforts send a broad message to Capitol Hill that if "you won’t maintain order, we will."
Since 2015, Texas taxpayers have spent $4.4 billion to beef up law enforcement at the border ($1 billion this year). Yet adding state patrols and deploying National Guard units yield diminishing returns as long as U.S. Border Patrol agents routinely release illegal aliens and send them on their way.
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, calls the wall venture "A Texas solution to a Washington problem." As Trump and Abbott prepare to pose for pictures at the chaotic southern border, it remains to be seen how far the governor’s solution will actually go.
The eyes of Texas, and the nation, are upon him.
Bob Dane is executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in Washington, D.C.
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