Last month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) had an announcement to make: he was picking up where Trump left off.
Speaking before a sign that read “SECURING THE BORDER,” Abbott hailed the progress of a state-funded effort to finish building the U.S.-Mexico border wall that had been quietly underway since 2021, and to announce the appointment of a new official to oversee it.
By and large, Abbott is replicating the same effort Trump talked about from his campaign on — including contracts issued to some of the builders the Trump administration hired to construct the wall.
For Abbott, it’s the latest in a series of stunts aimed at portraying the border as a place of incomprehensible chaos and danger, with him as the savior. Last year, Abbott imposed extra, state-level checks on border crossings, causing massive delays in food shipments. The Texas governor halted the policy as the delays spiraled into a crisis, declaring victory after persuading the governors of Mexican frontier states to announce that they would recommit to law enforcement along the border. Abbott has also deployed the Texas National Guard to sections of the border, adding a threatening assortment of Humvees to gaze out at the river and troops questioning what, exactly, their mission was.
The Texas Observer and Texas Tribune have reported extensively on Abbott’s effort to finish the wall, finding that the state has signed more than $841 million in contracts for a planned 37 miles of wall.
As part of the effort, Abbott’s government has awarded contracts to many of the same builders that the Trump administration hired to construct its version of the wall, before President Biden canceled the contracts after taking office in 2021. The wall itself that Abbott is building looks markedly similar to the 21 miles of wall that the Trump administration managed to construct along the 1,200-mile Texas portion of the border during his four year tenure.
Tricia Cortez, director of the Rio Grande International Study Center and a founder of the No Border Wall Coalition, described Abbott’s attempt at wall building as a surreal repeat of the Trump-era effort that she and other border residents thought had come to an end.
“We’ve already been through this with Trump,” Cortez told TPM.
Abbott first announced that Texas would build Trump’s wall in June 2021, as the Biden administration canceled Trump-era contracts for the barrier.
Abbott put a little-known state agency, called the Texas Facilities Commission, in charge of the process. The agency is typically responsible for building and maintaining offices, warehouses, and parking lots used by employees of the state of Texas, it was a surprising fit for the job.
Since then, the commission has gone about awarding contracts to the same firms that were hired to build Trump’s wall. One of them, Fisher Sand & Gravel, is owned by Trump donor and Fox News fixture Tommy Fisher, and was the contractor both for federal efforts to build the wall and for the privately funded We Build The Wall campaign, which ended in a mixture of federal indictments and questionable wall design.
Abbott reportedly awarded Fisher a $224 million contract for 9 miles of wall in January.
Other contracts — including efforts to obtain the same border wall panels planned for use by the Trump administration — followed the Trump plans closely. Abbott has been able to award no-bid contracts for some of his border efforts thanks to disaster declarations that he has issued, which suspend the state’s normal competitive bidding protocols.
An Abbott spokeswoman referred TPM to the Texas Facilities Commission. The Texas Facilities Commission directed TPM to a website suggesting that it chose Trump-era contractors and materials as part of an effort to cut costs, citing the builders’ past experience and already-obtained parts.
Charles Tiefer, an expert in public procurement contracting and a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, told TPM that while the costs involved in Abbott’s project appeared astronomical, they also appeared to have a distinct purpose.
“The governor is creating an image of continuity between Trump and him: That they were building the same wall, that they had the same goals,” Tiefer said. “That they were using the same tools.”
Tiefer added the contractors which Texas had hired had already made large sums of money off of the Trump work — public funds which were not clawed back when Biden canceled the contracts.
“They’re not likely to cut prices to continue doing what they’ve been doing,” he said.
Abbott’s effort is already running into trouble apart from costs.
Building the wall requires permission from private landowners with property along the Rio Grande river, where much of the unwalled sections of the border are located.
Cortez, the Rio Grande activist, told TPM that she was concerned the wall construction presented the same environmental issues that Trump’s effort did, interrupting local ecosystems while doing little to provide real border security.
So far, it’s not clear that Abbott has managed to get past the hurdle of persuading local landowners to allow construction. One large local landowner named Stuart Stedman received $1.5 million for permanent rights to five miles of wall through Stedman’s Faith Ranch, located in South Texas. Other landowners, however, have held out. And while the Trump administration at times used eminent domain to get the land it wanted, Texas has not done so.
The Stedman transaction raised eyebrows in part because Stedman has contributed more than $1.1 million to Abbott’s campaigns, and because Abbott awarded Stedman a seat on the University of Texas Board of Regents.
Ricardo de Anda, a local landowner and attorney who represented other property owners in efforts to stop the Trump wall construction, told TPM that while the state had hired a third-party contractor to negotiate easements with smaller landowners, the Texas Facilities Commission was negotiating directly with larger property holders in the area.
De Anda said that he was trying to persuade local landowners to opt for a conservation easement instead of a wall easement, which would put up an additional legal barrier to construction.
It’s not clear that Abbott’s effort will go much further than Trump’s attempt to build the wall.
De Anda described the Abbott effort as “building a movie set,” saying that he was unsure how many local landowners would opt to take the deal.
Per statistics released by the Texas Facilities Commission, Abbott has managed to build 1.7 miles of wall since the project was first announced in June 2021. Texas officials have said that the pace of construction will quicken this year.
“It’s a 1,200 mile border,” Tiefer, the law professor and of counsel at Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca, laughed. “Someone who wanted to cross the border would need a GPS to find the wall, not to get around it.”