What to Know About Texas' Clash with the Biden Administration over Border Patrol Access

A Texas Department of Public Safety officer guards an entrance to Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, Texas.
A Texas Department of Public Safety officer guards an entrance to Shelby Park, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas. (Sam Owens /The San Antonio Express-News via AP)

McALLEN, Texas — Texas' refusal to allow Border Patrol agents into a park along the U.S.-Mexico border is a new marker in the state's deepening rift with the Biden administration over immigration.

For nearly a week as of Wednesday, Texas has denied entry to Border Patrol agents around Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, which has become one of the busiest spots on the southern U.S. border for migrants illegally crossing from Mexico.

Tensions intensified during the weekend after Mexican authorities recovered the bodies of three migrants in the Rio Grande across from Eagle Pass. U.S. authorities and Texas officials have provided different accounts and timelines of the response. The Justice Department acknowledged in a legal filing Monday that the migrants died before Border Patrol agents tried gaining access to Shelby Park.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has said Texas won't allow Border Patrol agents “on that property anymore." The move has widened a broader dispute with President Joe Biden over illegal crossings and his administration's attempts to stop a rollout of aggressive border measures by Texas, including floating barriers in the Rio Grande and a new law that would allow police to arrest migrants on illegal entry charges.

Here are some things to know about the park and the broader dispute:

Why is the park important?

The roughly 50 acres (20 hectares) of parkland in Eagle Pass extends to the banks of the Rio Grande. The Texas border town is in a 115-mile (185-kilometer) swath of North America where a total solar eclipse will be visible in April and has planned a festival at the park for the event.

Last week, Texas officials seized control of the park as part of Abbott's expanding border mission known as Operation Lone Star. The mayor of Eagle Pass said the move caught the city off guard and questioned the timing, given that crossings have fallen in recent weeks.

Shortly after the fence went up, the Justice Department asked the U.S. Supreme Court to order Texas to allow Border Patrol agents back into Shelby Park. The U.S. government has said Border Patrol agents used the park to monitor the river and to launch boats into it.

As of Wednesday, the court had not acted on the request.

At a campaign stop last week, Abbott defended Texas restricting access to the park, expressing frustration over migrants illegally entering through Eagle Pass and federal agents loading them onto buses.

“We said, ‘We’ve had it. We’re not going to let this happen anymore,’” Abbott said.

What happened on the Rio Grande?

The dispute over access to Shelby Park escalated Saturday when U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat whose district includes the Texas border, accused the state of preventing Border Patrol agents from doing their job after three migrants, including two children, drowned near Eagle Pass.

The Texas Military Department has said claims that the state got in the way of Border Patrol agents saving the victims are “wholly inaccurate.” It said Border Patrol agents had relayed that Mexican authorities already recovered two of the bodies when they requested entry to Shelby Park. The department said Border Patrol specifically asked for access to pursue two other migrants who were believed to have been with the victims.

In a filing to the Supreme Court on Monday, the Justice Department argued that at a minimum Border Patrol would have been able to assist its Mexican counterparts had the agents had access to the area.

On Wednesday, the state again disputed the U.S. government's accounts of the drownings, as well as arguing to the Supreme Court that Border Patrol had largely pulled out of the area more than two months prior.

What else has Texas done?

A new Texas law, set to take effect in March, would allow all law enforcement in the state to arrest migrants who cross the border illegally and empower judges to order them out of the U.S. The Justice Department has sued, arguing the law would overstep on the federal government's authority over immigration.

Texas is also in court fighting to keep a floating barrier of buoys on the Rio Grande to prevent migrants from crossing. In a victory for the state Wednesday, a federal appeals court in New Orleans vacated a previous order that required Texas to move the barrier.

Texas also has been busing migrants from the border to Democrat-led cities across the U.S., some of which are trying to stop or reroute the arrivals.

Story Continues