AUSTIN, Texas — State House appropriators advanced a nearly $2 billion border security proposal that would fund the governor’s plan to build a barrier along its border with Mexico and cover expenses associated with prosecuting illegal immigrants caught trespassing on Texas land.
The Texas House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday passed H.B. 9 by a vote of 14-8, with five members absent. The vote sets up the $1.8 billion funding bill for a full vote before the lower chamber, though a date has yet to be set.
Rep. Greg Bonnen, a Republican who represents a Houston suburb, introduced the bill as a way to fund Gov. Greg Abbott’s proposals made earlier this summer. Abbott rolled out a multilayered strategy in response to what he called the federal government’s failure to address the worsening border crisis. The plan includes boosting the number of soldiers at the border, building a wall, and prosecuting illegal immigrants and smugglers.
The bill includes more than $1 billion for border security projects. Texas plans to solicit donations from the public to cover the cost of finishing the wall. Abbott first vowed in June to finish former President Donald Trump’s border wall in an effort to prevent people from entering the country unlawfully between ports of entry, where vehicles and pedestrians are supposed to cross.
A Washington Examiner analysis of completed border wall projects revealed that just 150 miles of the 1,250 miles of land that Texas shares with Mexico have a substantive barrier, leaving the state on the hook for roughly 1,100 miles of fencing. It may be the most challenging project the state undertakes during Abbott’s administration as he looks to secure a third term. At an average cost of $20 million per mile, it is a tall order — even for the massive state of Texas.
Approximately $301 million would fund an additional 1,800 National Guard soldiers on border deployments. Soldiers would work with law enforcement and help with construction efforts.
Criminal justice operations, including the detention of immigrants arrested after trespassing on private land, would receive an additional $273 million. The state is using the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Briscoe Unit prison as a jail, but the infusion of cash would allow it to expand jail space to two more state jails.
The committee hearing lasted seven hours as sheriffs from across the state told lawmakers that they also needed more funding to cover the higher-than-normal number of calls coming in.
Brooks County has seen a 140% increase in the number of deceased migrants found compared to last year, an indication of how many people are slipping across the border without being detected, Sheriff Benny Martinez testified. The county is seeing 130% more 911 calls, overwhelming its staff.
“Since January, we have had over 90 vehicle pursuits. We are seeing a tremendous amount of traffic, and it’s putting a delay time to answer our local calls because we’re handling other calls,” Zavala County Sheriff Eusevio Salinas Jr. said. “When a landowner calls 911, unfortunately, it rings at our office. It doesn’t ring at the Border Patrol station. It doesn’t ring at the [Texas Department of Public Safety] communications. It rings at our office, so we are the initial call.”
Democrats who opposed the bill said the state is criminalizing migrants who are seeking refuge from horrid conditions back home. Rep. Ann Johnson noted that virtually all of those arrested were on charges of trespassing, not smuggling.
“In 2019, for example, the U.N. talked about El Salvador and Honduras being the murder capital of the world,” Democratic Rep. Mary Gonzalez said.