Texas raises tone in border dispute with Biden and refuses to remove barbed wire

State authorities prevent federal agents from accessing Shelby Park despite a Supreme Court ruling granting them access. There were 300,000 illegal crossings in December, the highest figure for a single month on record

Migrants cross the barbed wire to reach Eagle Pass, Texas, in September 2023.
Migrants cross the barbed wire to reach Eagle Pass, Texas, in September 2023.Robert Gauthier (Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag)
Luis Pablo Beauregard

“Mr. President, you say you want to secure the border. Texas has secured it. Leave it alone. We don’t need you down here.” These were some of the challenging statements made by Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Republican, on Friday. The official was in Shelby Park, a public riverfront park in Eagle Pass County that is a popular crossing point and has been at the center of the dispute between state authorities and the Joe Biden Administration. The Supreme Court on Monday agreed with Washington — the Department of Justice had sued the Texas government over its immigration practices — and paved the way for removing the barbed wire along the Texas-Mexico border, ordering Texas to let in federal agents to reinforce border surveillance. But four days later this hasn’t happened yet, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon.

Patrick said that if Border Patrol agents remove the wire, the barrier will go up again overnight. Washington has sent heavy machinery to the area, which is located next to the Rio Grande, to remove the concertina wire.

On Tuesday, a day after the court ruling, the federal government asked Texas to allow Border Patrol agents to enter the park, which has had a Texas National Guard presence since January 10. So far state authorities have only allowed entry to Shelby Park to the public visiting a memorial, to the media and to people on their way to the nearby golf course, while restricting the passage of federal employees, said the Department of Homeland Security.

Non-scalable fencing and razor wire, prepared by the Texas National Guard engineers, lays in Shelby Park at the U.S.-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas, U.S., January 16, 2024.
Non-scalable fencing and razor wire, prepared by the Texas National Guard engineers, lays in Shelby Park at the U.S.-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas, U.S., January 16, 2024. KAYLEE GREENLEE BEAL (REUTERS)

“The request has been denied,” Ken Paxton, the attorney general of Texas, responded. In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, the official states that the Border Patrol voluntarily withdrew from Shelby Park in 2023, which “deliberately reduced its ability to respond to medical emergencies” in the area.

Paxton reiterated that the area where the Texas National Guard is installed is property of the city of Eagle Pass and is not a federal zone, so there is no reason to withdraw the soldiers. “I respectfully suggest that the time spent suing Texas be directed toward strengthening existing immigration laws,” Paxton said.

Biden has launched a challenge against the hardline Republican wing over immigration. The president says he is willing to close the border with Mexico the day Congress approves a law that is being negotiated in the Senate. This would allow the executive to suspend crossings when the area “becomes saturated.” The deal, which requires a Republican vote, would also provide the area with 1,300 federal Border Patrol agents, 375 immigration judges, 1,600 asylum officers and 100 surveillance machines. Former president and presidential hopeful Donald Trump, however, has called on Republican lawmakers not approve the deal to prevent Biden from securing a victory on the matter in an election year.

Governor Abbott with Donald Trump on a visit to the border last November.MICHAEL GONZALEZ/POOL (via REUTERS)

Texas Governor Greg Abbott further fed the flames with statements on Tucker Carlson’s program, one of the beacons of the American hard right, where he said that he is prepared “to continue building these barriers, with wire or other objects.”

Abbott used the same defiant tone in a statement released Wednesday on Texas’ “constitutional right to self-defense.” “Instead of prosecuting immigrants for the federal crime of illegal entry, President Biden has sent his lawyers into federal courts to sue Texas for taking action to secure the border,” the governor wrote. Abbott stated that more than six million people have entered the country illegally in three years of the Biden Administration. “That is more than the population of 33 States,” he wrote, claiming that Biden has instructed the federal government not to detain migrants.

Texas authorities have declared an invasion and have invoked constitutional laws allowing the state to “defend and protect itself.” “We will use every tool in our arsenal to defend Texas,” Abbott said on Friday. The Republican, one of the staunchest supporters of Trump’s anti-migrant policies, pointed out that 10 other states have sent their national guard to the area to combat illegal crossings. According to Fox News, 25 governors (all Republicans) support Abbott in his confrontation with Washington. One of them, Kristi Noem from South Dakota, was in Eagle Pass this Friday.

Some Democratic voices have called on Biden to use his powers to make the Texas National Guard a federal force. There is a precedent for this: in 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower made Arkansas agents federal due to growing racial tension that caused the desegregation of a school in Little Rock. The state governor, Democrat Orval Faubus, had refused to act so Washington intervened to enforce the law that indicated that blacks and whites could attend the same classrooms.

Record of illegal crossings

In the middle of the standoff between Texas and Washington, the Biden Administration has released figures for illegal crossings for December. Customs and Border Protection authorities indicated that 302,034 encounters (arrests) were recorded on the border with Mexico. It is the highest figure in a single month on record.

The federal agency said that so far in 2024 there has been a 50% decrease in illegal crossings, according to preliminary figures. To discourage the migratory flow, the Biden Administration has reactivated the deportation of irregular immigrants. In the second half of 2023, some 472,000 people were returned to their countries of origin. Among these were 78,000 migrants who had crossed as a family. The majority of people found on the southern border in the last three years have been returned or expelled, said the statement. The number of deportations registered in the last six months of 2023 exceeds the annual total of repatriations since 2015.

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