Story by URIEL J. GARCÍA
(Texas Tribune) – Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday the creation of a Texas “border czar” and said he has appointed a recently retired Border Patrol agent to that position who will “tap his expertise to deploy strategies that reduce illegal immigration and keep our community safe.”
Abbott said Mike Banks, who retired from Border Patrol 10 days ago, will work alongside the Texas National Guard, state troopers and the Texas Facilities Commission to “accelerate the building of the border wall in Texas.”
Banks said his top priority in his new job “is to make the state of Texas the least desirable place for illegal immigration to cross. I don’t think it’s going to be that difficult. … We just need to be more aggressive.”
Since President Joe Biden came into office, Abbott has heavily criticized the president’s immigration policies, and in March 2021, he launched Operation Lone Star – sending hundreds of National Guard soldiers and state troopers to border counties to apprehend migrants crossing the border. Hundreds of migrants have been charged with misdemeanor trespassing and are being held in prison. The state has spent more than $4 billion on the effort since Operation Lone Star began.
During the Monday news conference in San Benito, Abbott said “combating illegal immigration in Texas is a full-time job,” and “requires a leader whose only focus is responding” to the president’s immigration policies.
Abbott didn’t offer specifics on Banks’ duties or how much he will be paid.
Abbott said Banks worked for the Border Patrol for more than 20 years, serving under four presidents, including as the agent in charge of Border Patrol stations in Weslaco and McAllen.
During the news conference, Abbott also highlighted ongoing border wall construction by the state and said his office calculated that the state is spending $25 million per mile for wall construction.
So far, the state has erected a 1.7-mile stretch of wall on state-owned land in Starr County, part of a $162 million contract awarded to New York-based Posillico Civil Inc. in November 2021 to build eight miles of wall. Posillico Civil began another segment of wall in December in Los Indios in Cameron County.
Since Abbott announced the state would build a wall in June 2021, the Texas Facilities Commission, the agency in charge of the project, has awarded six contracts totaling $841 million to construct and manage 37 miles of border barrier in Cameron, Starr, Val Verde, Webb and Zapata counties.