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Inside the latest efforts and debate on border fortification

As Gov. Greg Abbott’s re-election campaign gains steam, border wall construction continues.

STARR COUNTY, Texas — Governor Greg Abbott has made border security one of the cornerstones of his re-election campaign. As the federal government announced the cancellation of Trump-era border wall construction, Abbott has stepped in with his own wall and temporary barriers on state and private lands.

Texas began construction of temporary barriers in Val Verde County’s Del Rio area, expanding to Starr County toward the end of 2021.

The governor, who’s running to lead Texas for a third term, showed off his new effort at a mid-December press event by his portion of the border wall in Starr County.

In January, KENS 5 was the first TV crew the Texas Department of Public Safety took to the construction sites to see the work unfolding in Starr County.

“This is the first area here in Starr County where we're actually constructing an actual border wall,” DPS Lt. Chris Olivarez showed KENS 5. “It’s a permanent structure.”

The wall looks very similar to the border wall constructed under former President Donald Trump. President Joe Biden halted construction when he first took office, leaving portions of the border wall unfinished. Some construction is still going on in neighboring Hidalgo County, where Customs and Border Protection tells KENS 5 it’s working on levee repairs. 

However, environmentalists, concerned citizens and several nonprofits have been tweeting images of construction, saying that Biden is still building what looks like a wall.

According to a press release, in November, the Texas General Land Office announced the signing of a lease agreement with DPS, authorizing the construction of a border wall along GLO-owned farm tract in Starr County.

In December, GLO officials said the agreement involves a 3,099-acre tract that gives the state a right to enter the property “for the purpose of constructing a border wall.”

In Starr County, Texas Facilities Commission is working on the project at Abbott’s direction. According to a TFC spokesperson, as of Friday, the commission has completed 3,136 linear feet of the 1.7-mile section of wall it’s working on.

“Walls do work and they're very essential to what we do as law enforcement,” Olivarez told KENS 5. “Now we’re La Grulla Texas, which is an area known for criminal activity, especially for drug trafficking. That's why it's very vital to have some type of barrier in place in this particular area right here to try to deteriorate and disrupt some of that activity from taking place from crossing over into the state of Texas.”

TFC didn’t provide KENS 5 with details as to how many miles of the border wall are planned, other than to say it was an ongoing project. Private landowners who’re allowing construction on their property will be “compensated for the use of their land,” officials said.

“[The wall] diverts that traffic or that activity to other portions of the border where there may not be a wall in place because of the terrain,” Olivarez said. “But now, you can place manpower and technology in those areas and close those gaps.”

In addition to the wall in Starr County, concertina wire is being installed along the Rio Grande. 

“With close proximity to the river, it’s very challenging to actually put a permanent structure in place,” Olivarez said. “So, the only option we have is to put temporary fencing or concertina wire to try to make it more challenging for those individuals that are trying to cross over into the United States.”

KENS 5 reached out to the Texas General Land Office for information regarding the temporary fencing. We have yet to hear back.

Plenty of people who live on the border oppose the wall, including the Anzaldua Cavazos families.

“It's a waste of money because there's so much money in smuggling. They're going to go over it (or) under,” said Reynaldo Anzaldua. “It's not going to stop anything.”

The families own land in Hidalgo County, next door to Starr. They just won a long-time fight with the government to take their land for federal wall-related construction.

“No wall in this world has ever stood up. Look at what happened to the Berlin Wall,” Anzaldua told KENS 5.

The governor’s office has been accepting donations to pay for border wall construction. As of early January, more than $55 million has been donated

The Texas Tribune has reported the governor’s office provided $250 million of state money for down payment, and the legislature provided additional $750 million for border barriers.

TFC told KENS 5 that since the border wall was an ongoing project, it didn’t yet have a total dollar amount associated with it. The agency said it didn’t have a breakdown of how much state land was being used, compared to private land. 

Beto O’Rourke is running against Abbott for the governor’s seat. His campaign sent KENS 5 a statement for this story.

Texas should be THE leader on addressing immigration and the dynamics of our relationship with Mexico. No state has more to gain or lose. 

“As Governor, I will work with my fellow Texans, regardless of party, to develop the immigration and border security reforms that will allow us to have a legal, orderly system of immigration while maximizing trade, tourism, and positive cross-border issues. We will, in a united way, work with our state Congressional delegation and the President to pursue long-lasting solutions that benefit the Texas economy, encourage more job creation, and guarantee the security that we should expect at our international border.”

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