The government of Texas and the Biden administration are in a legal standoff over a public park along the U.S.-Mexico border, where Texas National Guard soldiers have blocked access to Border Patrol officials.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Wednesday repudiated a demand from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide Border Patrol officials access to Shelby Park in Eagle Pass.
“Because the facts and law side with Texas, the State will continue utilizing its constitutional authority to defend her territory, and I will continue defending those lawful efforts in court,” Paxton wrote in a letter to DHS general counsel Jonathan Meyer.
“The U.S. Department of Homeland Security should stop wasting scarce time and resources suing Texas, and start enforcing the immigration laws Congress already has on the books.”
Paxton’s response followed a cease-and-desist letter dated Sunday, in which Meyer demanded that Texas officials stop blocking Border Patrol access and that they remove the barriers in the park.
“The recent actions by the State of Texas have impeded operations of the Border Patrol. Those actions conflict with the authority and duties of Border Patrol under federal law and are preempted under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. Texas’s actions also improperly seek to regulate the federal government,” wrote Meyer.
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The issue was escalated by the drowning deaths of three migrants in the Rio Grande in the environs of Shelby Park on Jan. 12.
Meyer wrote that Texas officials prevented Border Patrol agents from entering the park to assist a Mexican rescue operation, which ultimately saved two other migrants from drowning.
“Texas has demonstrated that even in the most exigent circumstances, it will not allow Border Patrol access to the border to conduct law enforcement and emergency response activities,” wrote Meyer.
Paxton denied that claim and said federal officials did not request access to the park the night in question.
“Your attempt to blame Texas for three migrant deaths on January 12, 2024 is vile and, as you now should be aware, completely inaccurate. ‘Three individuals drowned’ that night on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, but that tragedy is your fault. Contrary to your letter, [the Texas Military Department] did not prevent U.S. Border Patrol from entering Shelby Park to attempt a water rescue of migrants in distress.”
The use of National Guard troops to prevent the Border Patrol’s access to the border is an escalation in an ongoing fight between Texas and the Biden administration over how immigration and border security policy should be enforced.
FILE – Texas state Attorney General Ken Paxton makes a statement at his office, May 26, 2023, in Austin, Texas. The Texas Supreme Court on Friday, Dec. 8, put on hold a judge’s ruling that approved an abortion for a pregnant woman whose fetus has a fatal diagnosis, throwing into limbo an unprecedented challenge to one of the most restrictive bans in the U.S. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
The Biden administration says it’s complying with asylum law as it exists by detaining and processing foreign nationals who cross the border unauthorized between ports of entry — a longstanding practice that’s recently come into the national spotlight because of growing regional migration.
But Paxton expressed a different interpretation of the law.
“Quite apart from the Shelby Park specifics, your demand letter rests on a more fundamental misunderstanding of federal law and the role of sovereign States within our constitutional order. This much is clear from your invocation of a federal statute that gives U.S. Border Patrol warrantless access to land within 25 miles of the border, but only ‘for the purpose of patrolling the border to prevent the illegal entry of aliens into the United States,'” wrote Paxton.
“President Biden has ordered your agency to do the exact opposite, in keeping with his open-borders campaign promise. There is not even a pretense that you are trying to prevent the illegal entry of aliens.”
The use of Texas National Guard troops has further inflamed debate over constitutional jurisdiction in the case, as ultimately all military officials are under the command of the president as commander in chief.
“Texas officials are using the Texas National Guard to interfere with federal duties. And so that’s why I’ve said that the president should consider federalizing the Texas National Guard,” said Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas).
Castro added that Texas’s bluster has a political component because Gov. Greg Abbott (R) “is auditioning to be Donald Trump’s vice president.”
“Greg Abbott is just gonna keep interfering with federal responsibilities and trying to usurp federal authority. And so unless you put a clear stop to that, he’s going to continue.”