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Texas Gov. Abbott Wants To Finish The Border Wall, But Who's Going To Pay For it?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Ex-President Donald Trump ran for office years ago promising to build the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He left office years later with only a few portions built. Now Texas Governor Greg Abbott says he wants to finish the job and pay for it at least in part through crowdfunding. NPR's John Burnett is on the line. John, good morning.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So can the governor of Texas just ask people for money, and, if he gets it, build a wall?

BURNETT: Well, we shall see. You know, border security is a federal responsibility, and it's hard to imagine how the Homeland Security Department under President Biden will hand that off to Texas. We heard some sword rattling yesterday about how Texans have to defend themselves from what the lieutenant governor called an invasion from the south. Abbott said the state would initially transfer $250 million from the state budget into a disaster account as a down payment. And he kicked off this crowdfunding webpage where people can kick in and help build the Lone Star border wall. He didn't give any specifics. We don't know how much it will cost, where it will go, how many miles or what the design would be. The governor basically said he's going to hire experts, and they'll tell us all that later.

INSKEEP: John, one of the reasons that I was kind of scratching my head about this is I've followed your reporting over the years and heard your reports about the sheer number of Texas landowners on the border who don't want to be part of this.

BURNETT: Exactly. And that's really going to be the tricky part. I mean, Abbott says they can put up "hundreds of miles of wall" - his quote - on existing state land along the border, and he expects people to donate their riverside property to the state. And in the near term, he says, some folks want to install fencing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG ABBOTT: As we speak, there are state agencies talking to landowners on the border about putting up fencing on their private land to be able to prevent the dramatic influx that these landowners have been suffering from over the past few months.

BURNETT: And if experience is a guide, good luck with the state border wall. Trump built 455 miles and very little of it was in Texas because most of the borderland down here is in private hands. And I've interviewed them. Most border property owners didn't want a 30-foot-tall steel and concrete structure on land that's been in their family since Texas was part of Spain. Now, if the state wants to condemn their property to build its wall, they can try. But even the Trump administration, with the vast power of the federal government, had a devil of a time establishing clear title and getting those eminent domain cases through federal court. I mean, Steve, the entire city of Laredo that Trump tried to wall off from Mexico fought him tooth and nail. And that's not even considering all the environmental issues that'll prompt lawsuits against a state border wall.

INSKEEP: What are the politics of Abbott calling for this then?

BURNETT: Well, on the one hand, Biden really does have a border crisis. The numbers of single males sneaking across the border has soared almost 300% over last year. On the other hand, Abbott's seeking his third term as governor, and there's talk he might even run for president. Texas Republicans are gung-ho for a border wall. So Abbott gets political points just for saying he wants to jump-start Trump's wall.

INSKEEP: What is the status of the federal version of the border wall, anyway?

BURNETT: Right. Biden terminated the national border emergency. He cancelled $2 billion in diverted Pentagon funds and stopped construction. Last week, he went even further. He called on Congress to cancel the nearly $1 1/2 billion it set aside for the wall this year and redirect it to mitigate environmental damage caused by wall construction. Here's Myles Traphagen with the Wildlands Network in Tucson. He says they're in talks with Biden's people about how to repair damage to mountainsides that were dynamited to put in the wall.

MYLES TRAPHAGEN: And so we are very concerned about these locations that are going to be prone to severe erosion and further damage down the line after our monsoon rains arrive this summer.

BURNETT: So, you know, if folks thought that the border wall would drop out of the headlines when Trump left, with Governor Greg Abbott's announcement yesterday, here we go again.

INSKEEP: John, thanks for your reporting.

BURNETT: You bet, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's John Burnett. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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