Five land commissioner candidates sat down with Texas Scorecard as part of our Uncut Conversations series and explained their plans for securing Texas’ southern border.

Former ICE agent Victor Avila highlighted the state government’s current lack of initiative and called for the creation of a physical barrier along the border.

“We do not have to rely on the federal government. And in fact, if we did, we would see even worse than what we’re seeing today,” said Avila. “We can start actually putting the barriers where it matters … where it is going to reduce the amount of traffic coming in to begin with. We need to start sending the message that you’re not going to come into the state of Texas because we need to protect our sovereignty at this point.”

However, building a wall means that the state would need to acquire additional land along the border, and some Texans are worried that officials will use eminent domain to seize their private property. Jon Spiers, a former heart surgeon and attorney, explained his solution to this problem.

“We can work with the ranchers. Not to take their land, not through eminent domain, but through leasing,” said Spiers. “Now, if someone doesn’t want to lease their land, I don’t think we necessarily should take it. We can actually just run a fence around it. They will come to their senses and realize, ‘Hey, everybody’s coming over my land. Maybe I should talk to the state.’ We don’t want to seize people’s property.”

Businessman Ben Armenta also declared support for a border wall, but he proposed a different strategy for working with property owners along the southern border.

“The problem is that we are not building relationships with the landowners across the border,” said Armenta. “We’ve spent a lot of time doing research and understanding that the property owners all along the valley, they don’t like this either. These are trespassers on their property. … They wake up in the morning and they have all this destruction they’re not being reimbursed for. These are things that we can address at a statewide level, and I can be their advocate for that.”

Instead of a border wall, former real estate commissioner Weston Martinez proposed a unique plan that he believes will more effectively reduce illegal crossings.

“An additional part of the solution is to take the Rio Grande River, fill it up, make it navigable, and make it much like the Panama Canal,” said Martinez. “If the water’s up three feet [higher] than what it currently is, nobody crosses. So, now you have a situation to bring economy to a region that has never ever been seen in the history of Texas. So, that would secure the border and end human trafficking exponentially from what we’ve ever seen before.”

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R–Lakeway) also expressed her doubts that a wall would effectively increase border security and pointed to the need for additional strategies.

“Obviously, a physical barrier doesn’t stop everybody,” said Buckingham. “It might slow them down, it might channel them differently to go across a different space, but it doesn’t stop everybody. You need the boots on the ground, you need the technology. You know, we need to get rid of the lawyers that bring people here and all that kind of stuff. … It’s just shocking what’s going on there.”

All of the conversations with the land commissioner candidates can be viewed here.

Katy Marshall

Katy graduated from Tarleton State University in 2021 after majoring in history and minoring in political science.