Abbott Names New Border Czar, Gives Update On Wall Construction In South Texas

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By Bethany Blankley (The Center Square)

A new “border czar” has been named to oversee border security in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Monday, a newly retired U.S. Border Patrol agent supervisor, Mike Banks.

President Joe Biden designated Vice President Kamala Harris as the “border czar” in 2021, claiming she’d be involved with border security efforts. Harris continues to receive criticism for providing no oversight, visiting the border once, and claiming multiple times the border was closed as record numbers of illegal foreign nationals were apprehended or evaded capture, according to federal data.

Abbott said he created a “Special Advisor on Border Matters” and Texas’ first-ever border czar to do what he maintains the federal government has refused to do.

Abbott made the announcement in front of a portion of the border wall being constructed in San Benito, Texas, in Cameron County. He was joined by Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw and Texas Military Department Major General Thomas Suelzer.

“Building a border wall and adding hundreds of miles of other barriers,” Abbott said, “is only one way that Texas is responding to President Biden’s refusal to enforce the immigration laws of the United States of America.”

Referring to Texas’ law enforcement efforts through Operation Lone Star, he said, “We have turned back more than 32,000 illegal immigrants trying to cross into our country. We’ve arrested more than 24,000 criminals. We have seized enough fentanyl to kill every man, woman and child in the entire United States of America. And we have targeted the cartels that have profited off of the illegal immigration policies of President Biden.

“Illegal immigration in Texas is a full-time job,” Abbott said, and Mike Banks was “the perfect choice” to be Texas’ first-ever border czar. Banks, who has decades of experience serving in three states and Washington, D.C., having served under four presidents, “has seen firsthand the struggles of ranchers and communities caused by open borders,” Abbott said. “He understands the dangerous impacts that Mexican cartels have on our country.”

Related: Governor Abbott: Letters to Biden Are Fine and Dandy – But How About Using Your Power to Close the Border?

Banks, who was a Border Patrol agent for 23 years, said he was “humbled” by the opportunity to help protect the southern border, something he’d dedicated his life to and was very passionate about. He hoped to strengthen relationships with law enforcement partners and the community to continue Texas’ border security efforts, he said.

Abbott said it will cost the state $25 million per mile to build a border wall, varying based on the location. Part of the cost is associated with the materials, but the other part is acquiring the rights to build on the land – meaning paying private landowners for part of their property.

“One thing that has slowed our process” in building the border wall, he said, “was getting those rights.” After acquiring land rights, the state is accelerating building more of the wall, he said.

The Texas Facilities Commission began research and the procurement process for wall construction in 2021. On Dec. 18, 2021, Abbott debuted the construction of Texas’ first border wall on state land in Rio Grande City.

On June 20, 2022, the first 1.7-mile section of the wall’s construction in Starr County was completed, according to TFC.

TFC Executive Director Mike Novak testified before the state Senate Finance Committee last July saying that in less than a year’s time, TFC had completed the first segment of the program’s permanent infrastructure. TFC, a state agency with less than 400 employees, took on a job previously performed by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, with a staff of roughly 37,000, he said, “to solicit, contract, engineer, and construct a permanent wall along the Texas- Mexico border.”

Related: Report: El Paso Cleared Out Illegal Immigrant Camps Prior to Biden’s Border Visit

Texas DPS has identified roughly 40 miles “of the highest priority to secure the border.” At $25 million a mile, the state is expected to spend $1 billion on border wall construction.

In July 2022, TFC began the second phase of its border wall project, approving the purchase of $43 million worth of bollard panels to build 12.8 miles of wall. It also continued to approved building designs over the following moths. By December of last year, installation of another segment began in Cameron County – the site where Abbott made the announcement on Monday.

Syndicated with permission from The Center Square.