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Texas House approved nearly $ 2 billion in additional funding for border security operations, giving Governor Greg Abbott more state dollars to implement his plans to build a border wall and d incarceration of migrants for state criminal offenses with the aim of deterring migrants from coming to the state.
Lawmakers gave their initial approval on Friday to a finance bill with an 81-38 vote that would triple what the state allocated for border security in the last biennium. The $ 1.88 billion allocated by Bill House 9 in addition to the $ 1.05 billion approved by lawmakers for border security this spring.
“There is a crisis at our southern border with serious consequences that are spreading throughout our state,” said Representative Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, who drafted the bill. “Texas must respond to the crisis that has been brought to our doorstep. “
In June, Abbott announced that Texas would build a state-funded border wall to reduce the number of migrants entering through its border with Mexico. Earlier this year, the two-term Republican governor launched Operation Lone Star, an effort that directed state military and police resources to the border to help local and federal authorities fight human trafficking. and drugs across the border.
Abbott, who is seeking re-election next year, previously said he expected the state to build hundreds of miles of wall along the state’s border with Mexico, which is 1 254 miles, but didn’t specify where the wall would be or how much it would cost.
This week, its fiscal policy director Sarah Hicks told lawmakers the governor’s office would receive $ 1.02 billion from the border security grant funding bill. Of that money, $ 750 million would be earmarked for the construction of a physical barrier along the border. This is in addition to a $ 250 million “down payment” the state put on the border wall this summer.
Hicks said the Department of Public Safety had identified 733 miles of border where some sort of barrier might be needed. She also said the total cost of the wall could exceed $ 1 billion, but the governor’s office deemed it a “reasonable starting point.”
The state has already started to build border security projects. In June, it awarded a $ 25 million contract for an almost 2 mile concrete barrier along State Loop 480 at Eagle Pass. This project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Abbott’s office has also launched an online fundraising campaign to receive donations for the Border Wall. In two months, this effort raised nearly $ 19 million.
State Representative Rafael Anchía, D-Dallas, attempted to push Bonnen to performance benchmarks the state would use to determine the effectiveness of state spending on border security.
“This is obviously a big expense for the state of Texas,” Anchía said. “What performance measures did you consider in building a wall to be a valid intervention? “
Bonnen said he did not have specific numbers but agreed to add a reporting requirement as part of one of his amendments to the bill. Bonnen, however, said testimony from border sheriffs who say they are overwhelmed by the increase in migrants crossing their jurisdictions and landlords who say they fear staying home was enough of an incentive for the state to act.
He said he hoped that the additional funding for border security would lead to a reduction in arrests of immigrants at the border and a better ability for law enforcement to identify people crossing the border. He added that he hoped to see less criminal activity in the border areas.
It is unclear what effect a wall and an increased state presence could have on the number of arrests. Many migrants attempt to cross the border multiple times, and the number of repeat claimants has fallen from 5% of those apprehended in 2019 to 40% this year, according to the American Immigration Council, a group in Washington, DC, which advocates for immigrants. . Part of the reason the repeated crossings have exploded, immigration experts say, is President Donald Trump’s policy – pursued under Biden – to immediately deport the migrants after their arrest.
Lawmakers took over an amendment from Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, which would ban the state from using prominent estate to acquire land from landowners for the border wall.
The House also added an amendment to allocate $ 28 million to reimburse border counties for costs incurred for the detention of migrants in prison and for autopsies performed on migrants.
Lawmakers, however, rejected an amendment that would have included training on how to deal with crimes of sexual violence and human trafficking for law enforcement personnel deployed at the border. Officials testified before the committee that some migrants are sexually assaulted during their migration.
The Texas Military Department will receive $ 311 million to pay for the deployment of 1,800 additional Texas National Guard troops to the border, bringing the number of troops sent to the border to 2,500. The Texas Military Department has also been named as the leader in the construction of temporary fences which is part of Abbott’s efforts.
The Texas Department of Public Safety will receive $ 154.8 million for the deployment of 79 special operations soldiers to the border, 52 weeks of overtime for border operations and six tactical patrol boats.
The bill will also give the Texas Department of Criminal Justice $ 273.7 million to convert three state detention centers into prisons to hold migrants caught in Operation Lone Star. The funding will also cover $ 250 million that the state transferred earlier this summer from the department’s 2023 budget to a down payment fund on the border wall.
The bill also includes funds for the Texas Commission on Jail Standards and the Department of State Health Services to ensure standards in state prisons that are converted to prisons to house migrants and to fund ambulance contracts. necessary for border security efforts.
Bonnen said he hopes the federal government will reimburse the state for money it spends on border security, which Abbott has called a state disaster in several counties. He said the border wall was not a “singular option” that would reduce the number of migrants at the border, but he hoped it would make a dent in combination with other factors.
Bonnen also pointed to Democratic border sheriffs who backed the bill in committee and called on the state to help their overwhelmed departments deal with the increasing number of migrants in their counties.
“They asked for help, and today we are going to step forward and give them the help they need,” he said.
The fundraising bill must receive an additional vote of approval from the House before it goes to the Senate.
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