4 truths about the Texas-Mexico border ahead of Greg Abbott, Donald Trump visit on Wednesday

What to know: From a rise in border crossings to border counties opting out of Abbott’s disaster plan

Gov. Greg Abbott greeted then-President Donald Trump upon arrival at the Orange County Airport Landing Zone to visit areas damaged by Hurricane Laura in Orange on Aug. 29, 2020.

SAN ANTONIO – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and former President Donald Trump will pay a visit to the border on Wednesday, roughly two weeks after the governor announced plans to pay for the construction of more border wall with taxpayer money.

The pair of GOP politicians will provide a media briefing around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday before a tour “of the unfinished border wall” at 12:30 p.m., according to a release from Abbott’s office. You can watch the event live on KSAT.com/tv.

The press conference will be held at Weslaco Department of Public Safety Headquarters.

Abbott and Trump’s visit comes after a handful of other politicians, including Vice President Kamala Harris, have made trips to the Texas-Mexico border in recent months.

With so much political rhetoric playing a part in the country’s border discussion, here are some things to keep in mind ahead of the governor’s visit to the Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday.

Border crossing trends

The Wednesday event comes amid a sustained uptick in illegal crossings that has persisted since the beginning of 2021.

While Abbott and Trump have blamed Biden’s administration for causing the surge in migration numbers, Border Patrol border crossing statistics show that crossings have been cyclical in recent decades and have been exacerbated by a lull in crossings during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

Regardless of the cause, the data is clear: Border Patrol agents have had more than 100,000 encounters with migrants every month since February.

Though the monthly tallies have plateaued in recent months, border agents still reported 180,034 enforcement encounters in May, the most recent statistic released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Experts say the rise in crossings is more nuanced than a presidential change.

An analysis by the U.S. Immigration Policy Center found that migrations regularly increase between January and May, when months are warmer. The numbers generally decrease in summer months, when conditions become dangerously hot.

Before Biden was elected, experts predicted that 2021 numbers would likely be higher due to a backlog of migrants who would have come last year if not for the coronavirus pandemic halting travel and some court proceedings in 2020.

While the number of migrants apprehended at the border this year have been relatively high compared to recent years, they are not the highest ever. For example, in 2000, CBP reported at least 100,000 apprehensions for eight consecutive months, peaking in February with 211,328 apprehensions.

The majority of those apprehended are expelled under Title 42, which allows authorities to send single adults and families crossing the border from Central American countries back to Mexico without a deportation order. The practice has resulted in a dramatic increase of repeated attempts to enter the United States, according to the American Immigration Council.

Abbott’s ‘wall’

After chiding the federal government for its failure to secure the border, Abbott announced that Texas will build its own border wall, or fence, funded by state taxpayers and private donations.

Rather than seeking the approval of lawmakers during the regular session of the 87th Texas Legislature to fund the project, the governor pledged a $250 million down payment toward the wall after the session concluded. The governor used a disaster declaration to siphon the money from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) budget.

He’s also asked the TDCJ to clear the Dolph Briscoe Unit in Dilley, south of San Antonio, in order to use the prison as a place to house undocumented immigrants arrested by Texas authorities. The move surprised some because local and state police generally do not directly enforce immigration laws.

Beyond Abbott’s confirmation of the project, little specifics have been divulged. The governor did not indicate how many miles of border barrier he seeks to build, where it would be built or the total cost of the project.

“My belief based upon conversations that I’ve already had is that the combination of state land, as well as volunteer land, will yield hundreds of miles to build a border wall in Texas,” he said.

What Abbott has not yet addressed are the logistical and feasibility challenges that the last three presidents, including Trump, have dealt with: A majority of the Texas border already has natural barriers that are virtually impossible to build on (or cross), including deserts and mountain ranges throughout West Texas. In the places that are possible to build (generally south of Laredo and into the Rio Grande Valley), virtually all of the land either already has a wall or is privately owned and would require Abbott to use eminent domain.

Still, Abbott said Monday that the project has already begun on Twitter, though he did not specify where.

Abbott has also called for private donations to help fund the wall. So far, those efforts have raised more than $450,000.

Despite the funding, the funds set aside for the wall would not get much built. The latest estimates show that a mile of border wall costs taxpayers roughly $46 million.

Texans on the border react to surge

Though Abbott has likened the increase of border crossings to an invasion, many people who live in the Rio Grande Valley have pushed back for years on the effectiveness of a surge of state police officers to the region.

In fact, a handful of counties along the Texas-Mexico border have opted out of Abbott’s disaster declaration that is the foundation of the current law enforcement surge, while others that are hundreds of miles away from the border have now opted in.

Those that opted out include Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, the largest counties in the Rio Grande Valley — where the majority of illegal crossings occur in this state and where Abbott and Trump are visiting Wednesday.

The irony wasn’t lost on state Rep. Terry Canales, a Democrat who represents part of the Texas-Mexico border, who tweeted: “With the exception of Zapata County, with a population of under 15k, the entire South Texas border community of counties OPT OUT of @GregAbbott_TX border disaster plan. I can see it now: The Governor will soon be on a gun boat in the river with a ‘Mission Accomplished’ Banner!”

Since Rick Perry was governor, the state has budgeted about $800 million every two-year budget to pay for a so-called surge of state troopers to go to the border. Critics have said the DPS troopers often spend more time writing tickets for minor traffic infractions by U.S. citizens than stopping illegal activities related to immigration and the border.

Business leaders and locally elected officials who live in the Rio Grande Valley told the Texas Tribune that the rhetoric on immigration implies that cities along the border are unsafe and affects their ability to recruit talent.

“When I’m trying to recruit, say, surgeons, or I’m trying to recruit somebody to come to the university here, well, they wonder whether they ought to bring their families here because we’re a ‘dangerous hot spot,’” Hidalgo County Judge told the Texas Tribune. “Yet year after year after year after year after year, our cities are named the safest in the country.”

Many of those business leaders would rather the government focus on ways to address poverty and the economy in the area, along with making it easier for Mexicans to come shop in the valley, which helps those cities generate revenue.

Some experts have also told Texas Monthly that the surge in law enforcement agents in the area can do more harm than good, and that DPS sometimes end up targeting longtime residents in the area.

“We certainly want to secure the border, but this is overkill,” Starr County Judge Eloy Vera told the magazine.

Unaccompanied minors

Federal officials have said one of the most significant challenges facing federal authorities is not the rise in overall border crossing numbers, but the increase of unaccompanied minors who have crossed the border into the United States.

Unaccompanied children, roughly 80,000 in all, make up roughly 8% of the border crossings during Fiscal Year 2021, according to Customs and Border Protection numbers.

Because the Biden Administration ended the previous administration’s practice of expelling unaccompanied children, authorities had trouble finding space to house the children while officials could search for family members who live in the country.

This led to the establishment of several temporary shelters, like one at the Freeman Coliseum, which ended its agreement with the federal government in May. Another temporary shelter at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland continues to house migrant teens through the summer, officials previously said.

Abbott has not yet specified how the state will handle children who are with parents that are arrested and detained by state authorities.

Read more:

Immigration and border security remain top concerns of Texas voters, UT/TT Poll find

In first trip to U.S.-Mexico border as vice president, Kamala Harris focuses on causes of immigration

Florida officers begin deploying to US-Mexico border after call for help by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott


About the Authors:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.

Kolten Parker is digital executive producer at KSAT. Previously, he worked at the San Antonio Express-News and the Texas Observer.