Texas National Guard Seizes Section of Southern Border as Feds Appeal to Supreme Court

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Texas National Guard members block migrants from crossing the Rio Grande
Texas National Guard members block migrants from crossing the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass on July 29, 2023. (Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune)

This article was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

The Texas National Guard and state troopers have blocked U.S. Border Patrol agents from a 2.5-mile stretch of the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, preventing federal agents from patrolling that part of the border, according to a court filing by the U.S. Department of Justice, escalating the clash between state and federal authorities on the Texas-Mexico border.

On Wednesday night, troopers and National Guard members began to take “full control” of the 47-acre Shelby Park, erected concertina wire and fencing at the park to close off access to the public, Eagle Pass Mayor Rolando Salinas said. He added that he was told that the park would be closed indefinitely and the state took the action to prevent immigrants from illegally crossing into Texas.

State officers and National Guard members also have denied Border Patrol agents entry to the park, where agents routinely used a boat ramp to launch their boats to patrol the Rio Grande, the filing says. There is also a staging area at the park that Border Patrol agents use to inspect migrants who have been apprehended in this part of the border, the filing says.

In the filing, the DOJ is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in an ongoing legal battle between the state and the federal government and overrule a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that prevents Border Patrol agents from cutting the concertina wire Texas has strung along the Rio Grande.

“Texas’s new actions since the government’s filing demonstrate an escalation of the State’s measures to block Border Patrol’s ability to patrol or even to surveil the border and be in a position to respond to emergencies,” Elizabeth B. Prelogar, the DOJ’s solicitor general, wrote in the filing to the Supreme Court.

A White House spokesperson said in a statement that Gov. Greg Abbott has been using “extreme political stunts” to “demonize and dehumanize people” and now has made it “harder and more dangerous for Border Patrol to do their jobs.”

“Gov. Abbott has repeatedly proven that he is not interested in solutions and only seeks to politicize the border,” the spokesperson said. “The president has been clear that we need adequate resources and policy changes, and that our immigration system is broken. That is why on his first day in office he presented Congress with a comprehensive immigration reform plan and that is why he is working to find a bipartisan agreement with Congress that includes funding and meaningful reforms.”

The Texas National Guard and DPS did not immediately respond to emails from The Texas Tribune seeking comment.

On Friday, during a news conference about an arctic blast expected to sweep through Texas this weekend, Abbott defended the park takeover, saying it is legal.

"Texas has the legal authority to control ingress into any geographic location in the state of Texas," he said.

Renae Eze, a spokesperson for Abbott, said in a statement on Thursday that Texas is using different tactics to deter people from crossing the border illegally and blamed the Biden administration's immigration policies.

"Texas will continue to deploy Texas National Guard soldiers, DPS troopers, and more barriers, utilizing every tool and strategy to respond to President Biden's ongoing border crisis," Eze said.

Since 2021, Abbott has sent state troopers and National Guard members to different parts of the Texas-Mexico border under his Operation Lone Star initiative. That has created tensions between Texas and the federal government, which has sole authority to enforce immigration laws under federal law and Supreme Court rulings.

​​Within the past three years, the Texas Military Department has spent $11 million to place 70,000 rolls of concertina wire in different parts of the Texas-Mexico border, most notably in Eagle Pass, where migrants have been seriously injured trying to get through the wire.

Border Patrol agents began cutting through the wire or removing it to apprehend migrants or assist injured people, which triggered a lawsuit by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that claimed federal agents were illegally destroying state property.

U.S. District Judge Alia Moses of Del Rio sided with the Biden administration, ruling that Border Patrol agents didn’t violate any laws by cutting the wire. Paxton’s office appealed, and a panel of judges from the 5th Circuit paused Moses’ ruling until the case went through the appeals process.

The Biden administration has also sued Texas over Abbott’s order to deploy a 1,000-foot-long floating barrier on the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass. In December, the Fifth Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, ordered Texas to remove the barrier. Texas has asked the appeals court to reconsider the case.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune 

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