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



Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday, Oct. 14, 2016. (David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer/TNS)

WASHINGTON — 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.”

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.”

Staff writer Katie Leslie contributed to this report.


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