Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Texans In Congress Don't Really Support a "Border Wall," Right?

Posted By on Tue, Dec 20, 2016 at 10:03 AM

click to enlarge CBP
  • CBP
"Build the wall!" was a common refrain on the campaign trail for president-elect Donald Trump, one of his neat, thinly-veiled anti-immigrant slogans that helped him gaslight his way to the White House. It's a proposal that would undeniably affect Texas, with its 1,300 miles of borderland, more than any other state.

And on Trump's core campaign promise, Texas congressional officials are at best lukewarm, and at worst openly hostile to the idea. So concludes the Texas Tribune this week, which surveyed all 38 members of Texas' congressional delegation on the issue of Trump's vow to build a border wall. Of all the members that responded to the Trib's survey, none "offered a full-throated support of a complete border wall."

That might be because even Texas conservatives are acutely aware of the practical, political and legal headaches that would come with actually trying to build the Great Wall of Trump. Erecting the kind of wall Trump talked about on the campaign trail would require the government seizure of ranch land up and down the border, an eminent domain nightmare Republicans are probably eager to avoid. Add to that the fact that many of Texas' border communities have elected Democrats who are deeply offended by the idea of a border-spanning wall. (Filemon Vela, a Congressman from the Rio Grande Valley, famously told Trump, "You can take your border wall and shove it up your ass.")

So what do Texas congressional officials think of the wall? Go figure their take is more nuanced than that of Donald Trump. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn has called for some 700 miles of fencing, mainly around urban areas, to bolster security. He's also called for more drones and a boosted border patrol presence in some areas, proposals Ted Cruz echoed in his presidential run. (But remember Cruz also ran in the race-to-the-bottom GOP primary, so he too at one point made promises to “complete the wall” and “build a wall that works.”) Laredo Congressman Henry Cuellar, who has called for more smart technology to help patrol his sector of the border, has reportedly already been discussing many of these border security measures with the Trump transition team.

But while they haven't called for a Trump-style border wall, Texas Republicans have still made political hay out of the issue of border security, playing off the same fears that made Trump's border-wall pitch a success among conservative voters. It's why Texas lawmakers have militarized the border with increased state patrols (even state police gunboats floating the waters of the Rio Grande), all based on the premise that the feds aren't serious about border security — despite the hundreds of miles of border fencing and barriers that have already gone up; border patrol ranks that went from about 4,000 in the mid-1990s to more than 21,000 last year; and an annual budget for border and immigration enforcement that swelled from from $1.5 billion to $19.5 billion during that same time period (a twelvefold increase).

On the campaign trail, Trump said, “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, I build them very inexpensively.” But almost immediately following his win, Trump seemed to soften on the issue, conceding that, yeah, in some cases, more fencing or technology might be better than a wall.

But that doesn't mean Republicans have stopped flogging the issue. In his comments to the Tribune, Texas GOP Congressman Pete Sessions called Trump's promise for a wall "an analogy." And earlier this month, GOP Congressman Michael McCaul, of Austin, mused about creating a "security toll" to fund Trump's wall – or fence or "virtual wall" or whatever he ultimately settles on. It seems in the Trump era, "border wall" (much like "sanctuary city") is becoming a pretty wiggly term.

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