In private, Texas governor told county judges he’d put up a ‘fence’ not a ‘border wall’

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South Texas county judge hopes barrier will help stop the spread of deer tick fever

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott met with dozens of county judges prior to his Border Security Summit in Del Rio, Texas, last week, he announced that he wanted to build a “fence” along the Texas-Mexico border to further keep drugs and undocumented immigrants from entering the state.

Later, however, during a public forum attended by hundreds of cheering locals, Abbott promised “the state of Texas (is) to begin building the border wall.”

On Wednesday afternoon in Austin, Abbott is holding a news conference at the State Capitol where he is expected to release more details on the border barrier, as well as ways to pay for it.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is flanked by top state officials on June 10, 2021, in Del Rio, Texas, during his Border Security Summit. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

During a podcast on Tuesday, Abbott announced that he wants to ask for donations to help fund the border wall project that was started during the Trump administration.

“I will also be providing a link that you can click on and go to for everybody in the United States — really everybody in the entire world — who wants to help Texas build the border wall, there will be a place on there where they can contribute,” Abbott said on the podcast.

But that’s quite different from what he told county judges assembled in Del Rio on Thursday, according to several who spoke with Border Report immediately after the event.

Construction crews are seen on Nov. 10, 2020, completing a section of border wall on 23rd Street in McAllen, Texas, where Trump’s DHS Secretary Chad Wolf visited to commemorate the 450th mile of border wall built during the Trump presidency. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez, whose South Texas county has been the site of a massive influx of migrants since the Biden administration took office, said Abbott never called it a “border wall” during their 30-minute meeting at the Del Rio Civic Center. Rather, he repeatedly called it a “fence,” Cortez said.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez is seen in Del Rio, Texas, on June 10, 2021, immediately following the governor’s Border Security Summit. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“He said it would be smart for us then to place a fence all throughout our border because the only way they can cross is through the fence. So if they damage or do anything like that, well here’s the act, here’s the wrongful act. ‘So we’re going to put a fence on all the border,'” Cortez said.

At the summit, Abbott announced a sweeping eight-point border security plan that includes charging migrants who enter illegally with criminal trespass, which can carry a 180-day jail sentence. But his plan hinges on the cooperation of local counties. The governor is asking each of the 34 counties he has declared disaster areas due to the migrant influx, to each declare a local “disaster” declaration of their own. That will enable the charges to carry longer jail sentences, and allow the counties to be eligible to receive state and federal reimbursement funds, Abbott said.

Cortez said Abbott told them “it’s going to take local leadership to help us with this effort.” And to sweeten the pot, the governor signed a $1 billion budget appropriation by the Texas Legislature for border security, which he promised would be funds used to help local law enforcement and communities that participate with his goals.

Cortez has not signed such a declaration. But on Monday, Zapata County Judge Joe Rathmell did sign a declaration, and county commissioners have extended it to run concurrently with the governor’s May 31 disaster proclamation.

Zapata County officials have long been opposed to a border wall running through its flatlands, and they have even filed lawsuits to stop the federal government from building a border wall.

Zapata County Judge Joe Rathmell is seen on June 10, 2021, outside the Del Rio Civic Center after the governor’s Border Security Summit. (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

But after Thursday’s meeting, Rathmell had a different takeaway from Abbott’s border barrier plans and he told Border Report he is hopeful it could even benefit the county by helping to prevent the spread of deer fever tick by stopping cattle and deer from traveling North.

The disease is a problem, with many cattle crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico and infecting Texas cattle, which then pass along the disease via ticks that infect deer and other animals that migrate North.

“He did mention fencing and not walls, so there may be a difference,” Rathmell told Border Report.

“Our county suffers from a heavy fever tick infestation. And there was an effort by USDA to build a fence along (Highway) 83, a game fence, that would hold back mainly deer from spreading the fever tick. So there may be options that we may be in agreement that we may be working with the governor on scenarios such as that,” Rathmell said.

Cattle are seen grazing June 4, 2020, on Zapata County Judge Joe Rathmell’s riverfront lands along the Rio Grande. The area has been quarantined as a deer fever tick zone. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

But he reiterated that his county is still opposed to a “border wall.”

“An overall wall construction, as proposed by the previous president, we’re not in agreement on that,” Rathmell said.

Hudspeth County Judge Thomas Neely fully supports building a border wall and urges every county to sign on to Abbott’s plans.

If not, “they may be missing an opportunity to show the rest of the United States just exactly what our problems are,” Neely said. “It’s an operation that’s going to take a lot of planning and a lot of dedication. But it’s something that we feel that we need to do to protect ourselves.”

Said Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara said: “It’s going to be good for the state of Texas. … So we actually now have a way to move forward. What his plan is. I believe he has a really excellent plan. And we’re really truly grateful for the attention he’s giving this crisis.”

Border Report plans to follow up with stories after Abbott’s press conference today.

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