While Abbott and Trump Stump for More Wall, Texas Border Farmers Argue Property Rights

In the wake of reports that farmers along the Texas-Mexico border continue to see a wave of migrants crossing through their land, Republican Governor Greg Abbott's fundraiser to finish former President Trump's wall has raised more than $450,000 in donations.

The push to crowdsource the completion of the border wall comes as the governor declared his intention to dedicate $250 million in state funds toward the wall's completion, during a time in which U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) encountered over 180,000 at the southwest border during the month of May.

Russell Boening
"We don't have a firm position on the wall itself," Russell Boening, president of the Texas Farm Bureau, told Newsweek. "But we have a firm position on property rights." Texas Farm Bureau

In his appeals for the wall's construction, Governor Abbott said that the state's farmers face "a tidal wave of illegal immigrants coming across the border." Through construction of the wall, he said his administration "will secure the border, slow the influx of unlawful immigrants, and restore order in our border communities."

However, for farmers at the border, feelings about the wall are mixed.

"We don't have a firm position on the wall itself," Russell Boening, president of the Texas Farm Bureau, told Newsweek. "But we have a firm position on property rights, and that if the wall is built in certain areas where our members are affected that they be justly compensated."

With more than 500,000 member-families, the Texas Farm Bureau represents a wide coalition of farmers across the diverse, roughly 800-mile-long Texas landscape. Some farmers' properties run up along the border, and they resist the notion of a 30-foot fence cutting along their land. Others see the wall as a tool essential to their security, needed to establish peace of mind and to serve as a barrier to disorder.

Donna Schuster owns a cattle ranch in Kinney County, Texas that stands about 25 nautical miles from the Rio Grande River. She said she's encountered a continuous stream of migrants since November. While some of these encounters simply extend to people knocking on her door, she said she's had people take beverages from her garage refrigerator, cut fences, and break into tanks of water.

Schuster's story is similar to that of many farmers living in the Del Rio region of Texas, Boening told Newsweek. He and Schuster both said migrants regularly traverse through the area, with more single men crossing through in recent months.

Schuster has lived near the border for most of her life, and she told Newsweek that although she's seen these migration patterns before, the rate of the current crossings and lack of knowledge about the migrants themselves increases her concern.

"We're afraid because you don't know who's out there," Schuster told Newsweek. "My husband works in town, so it's just me by myself. I don't have any employees. For like 12 hours a day, I'm here at the ranch by myself, and we've got almost 9,000 acres. If something happens, no one can get to me quickly."

Greg Abbott
"A tidal wave of illegal immigrants coming across the border," Gov. Greg Abbott said during a press conference. Here, he speaks on details of his plan for Texas to build a border wall on Wednesday, June 16, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via AP

While she isn't sure whether the state can afford to build the wall and maintain it, Schuster ultimately supports its construction. She said in some areas of the border with uneven terrain the wall does not seem feasible, but in areas of high traffic like Del Rio, she sees it as a tool for funneling crossers into a tighter area.

Marianna Wright owns the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, a private nature preserve that sits directly on the border in an area 300 miles southeast of Schuster's ranch. She holds a different opinion on the wall.

Wright hasn't seen any increase in migrant crossings through her land over the past few months, much less damage to her property. She sees the move to crowdsource fund the wall as a political ploy by the governor to identify new donors and rejects it as a solution for addressing border crossings.

She believes CBP should reevaluate its strategy of channeling migrants into certain portions of the border like Kinney County and Roma, Texas, where crossings have been prevalent

"'It's not happening here, but is it happening in Roma?' Wright asked rhetorically. "Yes," she said.

She told Newsweek that the Border Patrol controls where migrants cross.

"There are a couple of hotspots where migrants are crossing," Wright said, "and they're crossing because that's part of Border Patrol's business plan."

Newsweek previously reported on CBP's strategy of Prevention Through Deterrence, through which the agency works to limit crossings by funneling migration routes through environmentally challenging portions of the border landscape. The agency operates this strategy by concentrating its resources in specific segments of the border as opposed to others.

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"The state still faces several eminent domain cases surrounding the previous building of the wall, meaning new cases could be fought in the state’s courthouses for years." Here, ranch owner Tony Sandoval stands before a portion of the unfinished border wall near Roma, Texas taken on March 28, 2021. Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

With portions of the Texas-Mexico border characterized by riverbeds, canyons, and remote desert, more wall-building presents serious design and construction challenges. Additionally, Abbott's plan faces legal challenges to the eminent domain laws, through which owners like Wright could fight the construction in court.

The state is already facing several eminent domain cases surrounding the previous building of the wall, and new construction could be tied up in Texas courts for years.

"We're still looking to the federal government on this issue and are not expecting Texas to fix this problem," Boening of the Texas Farm Bureau told Newsweek. "Can Texas be part of the solution? Maybe so. But this is still a federal issue."