McALLEN, Texas — Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Thursday the state would build a border wall with Mexico, giving little detail about construction that would expand one of former President Donald J. Trump's favorite projects.
It is unclear whether the state has the authority to build a wall in an effort to deter immigrants, the majority of whom are fleeing poverty and violence from Central America.
At a meeting with state law enforcement officials in Del Rio, a small border town that has seen a large influx of immigrants since President Biden took office in January, Mr Abbott said he expected to announce more details about the wall next week.
Mr Abbott explained that he would start by putting up barriers to identify people trying to cross the border and by deploying additional law enforcement officers to assist border police. He blames the increase in the number of migrants crossing over to Mr Biden's abolition of the restrictive border rules of Mr Biden.
"It has gotten out of hand and a change is needed," he said. "Some of these border barriers will be built immediately."
Then, to thunderous applause, the governor revealed that Texas would also build a border wall.
“While securing the border is the responsibility of the federal government, Texas will not stand idly by as this crisis grows,” said Mr Abbott, adding: “Our efforts will only be effective if we work together to secure the border, make criminal arrests, protect landowners, rid our communities of dangerous drugs and give Texans the support they need and deserve.”
In March, Mr. Abbott in action called what he called Operation Lone Star, which could deploy hundreds of agents and resources along the southwestern border to fight the smuggling of people, drugs and weapons, said Victor Escalon, a regional director with the Texas Department of Public Safety. But the decision to build a border wall could be a first for a state administrator.
Mr Abbott's announcement was quickly criticized by immigration lawyers, who said it would most likely face legal challenges.
“There is no substantive plan,” said Edna Yang, co-executive director of American Gateways, an immigration legal aid and advocacy group based in Texas. "It will not make any border community or province any safer."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas tweeted"To be clear, this is an attempt to distract from his government failure while targeting vulnerable immigrants."
Mr. Trump made the border wall a signature campaign promise, often urging his homeland security officials to speed up construction on the project, waiving federal contract and environmental laws in the process.
During his campaign, Mr. Trump promised Mexico would pay for the wall, but instead released billions from Department of Defense funds initially intended for anti-narcotics or construction programs. His government eventually built more than 450 miles of new wall, mostly in areas where once dilapidated barriers stood. Most of the construction has been in Arizona, where migrants are already struggling through rough terrain to cross the border, rather than in South Texas, an area prone to illegal border crossings.
Private landowners in South Texas have emerged as an obstacle to Mr Trump's construction, with many opposing the administration's attempts to seize their land through eminent domains. And then Mr. Biden suspended construction of the wall on his first day in office, as part of a series of actions to roll back Mr Trump's immigration agenda.
The Biden administration and Mr Abbott have argued over how to deal with the thousands of unaccompanied minors who have crossed the border in recent months. The government was unable to convert federal funds earmarked for disaster relief into border processing when Mr Abbott refused to give his consent.
At the time, Mr. Abbott that the federal government, not Texas, was responsible for controlling the border.
When the migrant children filled the Border Patrol's detention centers, the Biden administration responded by opening temporary facilities at a convention center in Dallas, a sports arena in San Antonio, and other vacant locations across the country. While Vice President Kamala Harris was in Guatemala this week, discouraged potential migrants from traveling to the border, telling them, "Don't come."
The Biden administration is still using a pandemic emergency rule known as Title 42 that allows border agents to quickly send most singles and many families crossing the border into the hands of Mexican authorities. Mr Biden has exempted unaccompanied minors from the policy, denying most other migrants a chance to apply for asylum.
However, some families have been able to cross Texas due to a change in Mexican law that prohibits the detention of small immigrant children and a lack of reception capacity south of the border. Rather than detain those families, U.S. authorities are releasing many into Texas communities.