What wall? Texas Repub­li­cans see bor­der fenc­ing, sur­veil­lance where Trump sup­port­ers see bar­rier


— So, about that wall. Af­ter Don­ald Trump’s up­set win last week, Texas Repub­li­cans in Congress find them­selves grap­pling with some of the pres­i­dent-elect’s cam­paign pro­pos­als. Fore­most among them is the oft-touted, Mex­i­can-funded, “big, beau­ti­ful” bor­der wall that be­came a defin­ing fea­ture of Trump’s stump speech.

Now that he is pre­par­ing to take of­fice, con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans are throw­ing cold wa­ter on the idea of a Great Wall of Trump in the Lone Star State.

“I’m not in fa­vor of the wall, I’m in fa­vor of an in­te­grated sys­tem,” said Rep. Bill Flores, out­lin­ing a strat­egy that would in­volve air­borne and ground-based ob­ser­va­tion, among other se­cu­rity fea­tures. “I would use a holis­tic ap­proach to it. It’s more than a wall.”

The idea of a wall, many Texas Repub­li­cans agree, was in­tended to sym­bol­ize in­creased bor­der se­cu­rity.

“What Pres­i­dent-elect Trump knows is that it’s a long bor­der, and along that bor­der there are cer­tain things that make more sense,” said re­tir­ing Rep. Randy Neuge­bauer. “I don’t think peo­ple are so con­cerned about what it is as they are about get­ting the job done. And what Trump ran on was, ‘I can get the job done.’ “

The U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der stretches nearly 2,000 miles, and es­ti­mates for Trump’s pro­posal have put the po­ten­tial cost any­where be­tween $5.1 bil­lion and $25 bil­lion. Todd Stern­feld, the owner of a con­crete com­pany in Texas, pro­jected on Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio’s Planet Money this week that the wall would re­quire 250,000 truck­loads of ce­ment.

“There are places where a good solid bar­rier is a big ben­e­fit — a wall, a fence, what­ever it is,” said Rep. John Carter. “But parts of Texas you couldn’t wall, and if you walled it, it wouldn’t be worth do­ing be­cause no­body’s out there.”

The prob­lem in Texas, Flores said, is that much of the land along the bor­der is pri­vately owned by ranch­ers and farm­ers, sovereign Amer­i­can ter­ri­tory that nei­ther the landown­ers nor govern­ment would want to cede. He said he does not be­lieve that the wall could be built in the mid­dle of the Rio Grande that lines the state’s south­ern bor­der.

“Trump’s mes­sage res­onated with the Amer­i­can peo­ple, and it was more the themes of the mes­sage rather than the ex­act words of the mes­sage,” Flores said. “So as long as they get to the same end state, and that is a se­cure south­ern bor­der, it’s my be­lief they don’t care if it’s a wall or if it’s just a sys­tem that gets them to that same place.”

That dif­fers from what can­di­date Trump said in Au­gust, when he promised to be­gin work on Day One in of­fice “on an im­pen­e­tra­ble, phys­i­cal, tall, pow­er­ful, beau­ti­ful south­ern bor­der wall.”

Trump hedged on the pro­posal in his only post-elec­tion in­ter­view so far, telling CBS News last week that, “for cer­tain ar­eas,” he would ac­cept a fence in­stead. But, he noted, he’s got a con­struc­tion back­ground.

Some Texas Repub­li­cans, such as Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler, would still like to see some form of wall — he of­ten points to the wall Israel built along the West Bank as a good ex­am­ple — even if it does not cover the whole bor­der.

“You don’t need it down in Big Bend Na­tional Park, there’s some places you don’t, but some places you re­ally do, and we need to do it,” Gohmert said. “The Is­raelis have shown whether you call it a fence or a wall, it can work if it’s se­ri­ously en­forced.”


The Dal­las Morn­ing News

But Rep. Roger Wil­liams said he would like to see more of an ef­fort to re­cruit mil­i­tary vet­er­ans to join the Bor­der Pa­trol, ex­plain­ing that they are “trained and ready.” A wall does not fea­ture into his plans.

“We’ve got to se­cure our bor­der, hardly any­one dis­agrees with that,” Wil­liams said. “Per­son­ally, I’m a guy who thinks we need more boots on the ground. We need more Bor­der Pa­trol.”

Rep. Brian Babin sidestepped ques­tions about Trump’s shift­ing stance, fo­cus­ing on the broader goal of halt­ing il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

“How ef­fec­tive a wall or a fence is com­pared to boots on the ground, in­te­rior en­force­ment, stop­ping catch and re­lease,” Babin be­gan. “Let me just tell you this, the bot­tom line is there was a bal­lot box revo­lu­tion, and peo­ple are tired of an un­con­trolled, un­bri­dled il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion go­ing on and the Amer­i­can tax­payer hav­ing to pick up the bill.”

The wall as a metaphor for stronger bor­der se­cu­rity ap­pears to be a point of near con­sen­sus among Repub­li­can politi­cians in Texas.

Lt. Gov. Dan Pa­trick, who served as the Texas state chair­man for Trump’s cam­paign, sug­gested this week that it does not mat­ter which meth­ods are used as long as the bor­der is se­cure.

For­mer Gov. Rick Perry ac­knowl­edged over the sum­mer that a lit­eral wall would not hap­pen, even as he cam­paigned on be­half of the New York real es­tate mogul, de­scrib­ing it in­stead as a “tech­no­log­i­cal” or “dig­i­tal” wall.

And Repub­li­can Sen. John Cornyn, an­other Trump sup­porter, said on a tour of the bor­der in March that a “phys­i­cal ob­sta­cle” was not the so­lu­tion but rather that a “vir­tual bor­der” is needed.

“We al­ready built most of the wall, that’s the un­told story,” said Rep. Joe Bar­ton of Ar­ling­ton, al­lud­ing to the Se­cure Fence Act of 2006 that di­rected bil­lions of dol­lars for var­i­ous types of bar­ri­ers. “There’s some sort of phys­i­cal bar­ri­cade al­most ev­ery­where along the bor­der that makes any sense.”

But while Flores said GOP vot­ers “will get it” if Trump’s “wall” takes other forms, other law­mak­ers ac­knowl­edge that the ra­bid sup­port­ers who grew ac­cus­tomed to the can­di­date’s call-and-re­sponse rou­tine dur­ing ral­lies — “Who’s go­ing to pay for the wall?” “Mex­ico!” — may be dis­ap­pointed.

“They’ll be up­set about it when the re­al­i­ties of the phys­i­cal build­ing of it and the time­line set in,” said Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Cop­pell. “It’s go­ing to be in­cum­bent on (Trump) to ex­plain that wall means bar­rier, it means bor­der se­cu­rity.”

Staff writer Katie Les­lie con­trib­uted to this re­port.


Sun­set at the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der in Naco, Ariz., where a Bor­der Pa­trol agent in his car keeps an eye on ac­tiv­ity.

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