Former President Donald Trump’s visit to the border recently had a distressingly familiar ring to it. The ex-president made the same baseless claims that other countries are sending their murderers and drug dealers to America. He made the same false boasts that his policies — undeniably cruel and at times recklessly lethal — solved our nation’s complex immigration challenges. He aired the same bogus grievances of a “stolen election,” a fanciful narrative rejected by dozens of judges but still embraced by a worrisome number of Americans.
And Trump re-upped his signature crusade for a costly border wall — although there’s no longer any pretense that Mexico will pay for this boondoggle, to the extent that anything gets built at all. Gov. Greg Abbott has instead volunteered Texans and their wallets for the task.
How much would it cost? No one can say. The Texas border wall project manager that Abbott plans to hire is supposed to figure out costs and logistics, even as the governor is pledging action and tweeting video of land-clearing for a wall.
But we know the Trump administration wanted to add about 280 miles of border wall in Texas. And we know that after spending $2.8 billion to replace existing barriers and build new ones in Texas, the Trump administration produced just 55 miles of new wall. Federal lawmakers said some portions of the Texas wall cost $26.5 million per mile.
Abbott envisions “hundreds of miles” of new border wall. You do the math.
Because no one likes taxes, Abbott has suggested the effort could get a significant boost from private donations. So far his office has pulled in less than $500,000 in donations. Perhaps that’s enough to erect a few slats.
We Build the Wall, a separate and well-publicized effort to raise private donations for a border wall, raised about $25 million and built less than 5 miles of wall in Texas and New Mexico. Setting aside the fact that its organizers were indicted for fraud, and that the poorly built segment of wall in Texas was in danger of collapse last year, it’s clear that even a robust national campaign for a donor-funded border wall will only cover a few miles of work.
Abbott has already started Texas’ border wall effort by reallocating $250 million of taxpayer money from the state prison system’s budget. Reporting by the Dallas Morning News suggests Abbott plans to replace those funds with federal COVID relief dollars — prompting Democratic members of Congress to call for a federal mandate to prohibit such a gross misuse of emergency aid. What a disgrace. Our governor can’t be trusted to put the COVID recovery needs of Texans above the border wall backdrop he desires for his next campaign photo op.
While Texas rushes in to continue Trump’s border wall, it risks making the same costly mistakes as the ex-president. Namely: Working to build expensive stretches of wall without first determining whether such a barrier is necessary, cost-effective or better than other border security options, such as surveillance technology.
A sharply worded report issued last year by the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security found the Trump administration failed to properly examine alternatives or develop a sound methodology for ranking the areas needing a border wall. Operating in such a ready-fire-aim way means the project “may take longer than planned, cost more than expected, and deliver less capability than envisioned to secure the southern border,” the inspector wrote.
Hardly a good use of dollars, whether they come from donors or taxpayers.
We have long recognized the need for America to secure its borders and provide an orderly system for immigration. We also recognize the spike in border crossings in recent months has strained South Texas communities. These are challenges demanding a proper federal response — and make no mistake, enforcing immigration laws is the responsibility of the federal government. The U.S. Supreme Court told Arizona as much in 2012, when that state tried to take border control efforts into its own hands by having state troopers arrest migrants for trespassing and other charges.
Trump’s original campaign pledge to “build that wall” excited his core Republican voters, and Abbott is hoping to ride a similar wave of enthusiasm through next year’s gubernatorial campaign and perhaps a future White House bid. But we’ve seen this show before. Texas doesn’t need more miles of border wall. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for this charade. All of us should be spared this rerun.