Texas-Federal Tensions Rise Due to Border Immigration Crisis
Residents in the tight-knit community of Eagles Pass, Texas, find themselves at the center of a growing storm as the immigration situation along the Texas-Mexico border intensifies.
At issue is the 47-acre Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, where Texas has for months been laying concertina wire along the Rio Grande to prevent migrants from crossing. In a 5-4 decision early last week, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Biden administration, allowing U.S. Border Patrol agents to cut the wire to apprehend people who had crossed the river.
However, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas openly defied this directive, escalating a burgeoning standoff over constitutional authority at the border.
Texas has since installed more razor wire in Eagle Pass, which was not prohibited under the Supreme Court’s order. The Biden administration has argued that the wiring makes it difficult and dangerous for federal agents to perform their duties.
In a statement last week, Abbott said that the federal government “has broken the compact between the United States and the States” and, therefore, Texas has “the right of self-defense.”
Residents in Eagles Pass, with a population of just 28,000 people, find themselves particularly unsettled as the significant forces of global migration, constitutional law, and election-year politicking stir turmoil across America.
Last month, a woman and two children drowned in the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass after U.S. border agents were prevented from taking action, federal officials said.
According to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security spokesperson, the Mexican government alerted U.S. Border Patrol agents to the migrants’ plight. However, they were impeded from entering the area on the U.S. side after Texas National Guard troops, under the direction of Gov. Abbott, prevented them from doing so.
The Texas Military Department presented a contrasting account in its official statement, contesting the narrative. According to the department, their personnel received a distress report but found no migrants requiring assistance in the river.
“TMD Soldiers were in direct communication with Border Patrol on the evening of 12 January when Border Patrol requested access to Shelby Park,” the TMD statement said. “Soldiers confirmed that when Border Patrol requested access to the park, they stated that Mexican Authorities had already recovered the bodies of two drowned migrants. Border Patrol specifically requested access to the park to secure two additional migrants that were presumed to have traveled with the deceased, though they had crossed to the boat ramp.”
In December 2023, a record number of migrants crossed the Rio Grande, with tens of thousands wading through Shelby Park’s grass and ballfields on the bank of the river. In reaction, Gov. Abbott directed his forces to assume control of the park, primarily aimed at restricting access to the Border Patrol, which had previously utilized the park for processing migrants.
Border security has become a focal point in various states and in Congress, with Republicans linking assistance to Ukraine to a border security agreement and advocating for the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
President Joe Biden has also expressed his willingness to close the border if granted emergency authority as part of a potential agreement.
During a campaign event in South Carolina in late January, Biden conveyed that both Democrats and Republicans were “making real progress” on a bill encompassing new border security measures. He highlighted that such legislation would grant him, as president, emergency authority to close the border until it regains control.
At South Carolina’s “First in the Nation” dinner, Biden stated, “If that bill were the law today, I’d shut down the border right now and fix it quickly.”
According to two sources familiar with the negotiations, the currently discussed bill, as reported by NBC News, would compel the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to close the border if the daily average of migrant encounters reaches 5,000 over a seven-day period or if the crossings in a single day reach 8,500.
In the event of a shutdown, a daily allowance of 1,400 undocumented migrants would be permitted to cross legally through ports of entry. However, the restrictions would persist until the number of migrant encounters decreased to less than 75% of the triggering figure and remained below that threshold for at least a week. Only then would DHS have two weeks to reopen the border gradually. According to the sources, this restriction level could result in the border remaining closed for an extended period, possibly months.
In a statement, President Biden said he would shut down the border if needed “the day I sign the bill into law.”
Currently, Border Patrol agents detain and handle migrants crossing the southern border, with approximately 85% being released into the United States. They are given dates to appear before an immigration judge for asylum determinations or deportation decisions. While Mexico has agreed to accept 30,000 migrants monthly from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Cuba, the number crossing into the U.S. from these nations often surpasses this agreed-upon quota.
Speaking with the media earlier this week, President Biden said he has done “all I can do” as the standoff between Texas and his administration continues.
In December, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data revealed that approximately 300,000 migrants entered the U.S. via Mexico, averaging nearly 10,000 per day. Among them, approximately 250,000 crossed between ports of entry. Also, in December, there were 155,789 migrant encounters in Texas.
“I’ve done all I can do,” Biden told the press. “Just give me the power. Give me the border patrol. Give me the people. The judges. Give me the people who can stop this and make it work right.”
Immigration reform is a top priority ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
Biden faces bipartisan criticism for his management of the U.S.-Mexico border amid a continued surge in migrant crossings. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data reports over 2.4 million encounters at the border during the 2023 fiscal year, a notable increase from approximately 1.7 million in 2021.
In response, Biden has announced he’s open to “massive changes” in border policy, urging Congress to support a bipartisan Senate agreement that combines border enforcement measures with aid for Ukraine’s conflict with Russia.
Some Democrats, such as Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, have advocated for President Biden to nationalize the Texas National Guard to prevent Governor Abbott from flouting the court’s decision.
“Abbott is using the Texas Guard to defy a Supreme Court ruling. When Gov. Faubus did this in 1957, Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas Guard to ensure compliance with the law,” O’Rourke posted on X on January 24. “Biden must follow this example of bold, decisive leadership to end this crisis before it gets worse.”
Border apprehensions exceeded 2 million in both fiscal years 2022 and 2023. In the latest fiscal year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported over 142,000 individuals, including nearly 18,000 families, surpassing the 14,400 deported during President Donald Trump’s final fiscal year.
This stands in stark contrast to Biden’s campaign promises of a deportation moratorium while collaborating with Congress to address the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country unlawfully.
However, the Constitution unambiguously addresses the questions at hand. Washington establishes immigration policies, and it is the responsibility of the federal government to carry them out. Although states can contribute, they cannot substitute Washington’s judgment.
Given the deadlock in immigration legislation within Washington, this frequently results in Presidents shaping the agenda and relying on their successors to maintain some semblance of their implemented policies.
However, Abbott promises to fight on.
“This is the number-one issue in America,” Abbott said on Monday. “Americans want a secure border. If Joe Biden federalizes our National Guard, that would be the biggest political blunder that you can make, and that’s why I think he will not do it.”
At a rally Thursday night in Dripping Springs, Texas, Sarah Palin told a crowd of a thousand “patriots” that they would “take our country back” as the Texas National Guard has seized control of the international boundary from the federal government.
“The eyes of the world are on Texas right now,” Palin told the crowd. “Our federal gov is sanctioning to allow this invasion [across our border],” the former Alaska governor said. “We’re going to take our country back.”
Members of the “Take Our Border Back” convoy are extending an invitation to “law-abiding, freedom-loving Americans” to join them in border towns for prayer and speeches and to enlist more “patriots” in support of their cause before hosting three rallies in three cities on Saturday.
The group, identifying as “God’s Army,” has traveled through nine states over four days. Arriving in central Texas on Wednesday, the group will stay until Friday for the final stretch of the journey, culminating in a rally in Quemado, approximately 20 miles from Eagle Pass, on Saturday.
Over a dozen Republican Governors also plan to attend a security briefing with Abbott at the southern border this weekend.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday was among the first to commit more personnel to Texas, announcing he would send hundreds of additional guard members as tensions grow between state authorities and the U.S. government over who has the power to enforce immigration policies, where and how.
Not all National Guard members are helping Texas.
In Massachusetts, Democratic Gov. Maura Healey activated hundreds of guard members last August to aid with an influx of migrants. The members helped coordinate food, transportation, medical care and other basic needs at shelters and hotels.
National Guard members from across the country are also in Texas helping with the border security operations under the command of federal authorities, including from states that have not deployed soldiers to help with Operation Lone Star.
In an article published today by The Guardian, writer Andrew Gawthorpe had this to say about the border crisis: “One of the most disturbing aspects of this whole affair is that despite Abbott’s arguments having no legal merit, four supreme court justices were willing to endorse Texas blocking federal authorities from removing the razor wire at the border. The fact that this case was so narrowly decided is a five-alarm fire that suggests we are only one new court decision or one new Republican Supreme Court appointment away from a radical restructuring of America’s constitutional order. Future historians may look back on the 2020s as a turning point as profound as the civil rights movement of the 1960s – and one in which the pendulum swung back the other way.”