U.S. Supreme Court says Texas can’t block federal agents from the border

A Texas National Guard member at the bank of the Rio Grand at Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, on Jan. 16, 2024. Texas has closed off Shelby Park, cutting access to federal agents to part of the Texas-Mexico border and escalating tensions between the Biden administration and Gov. Greg Abbott.
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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ordered Texas to allow federal border agents access to the state’s border with Mexico, where Texas officials have deployed miles of concertina wire.

The order did not explain justices’ decisions. For now, it effectively upholds longstanding court rulings that the Constitution gives the federal government sole responsibility for border security.

In October of last year, Texas sued the federal government after Border Patrol agents cut some of the wire strung along the Rio Grande, arguing the Department of Homeland Security destroyed the state’s property and interfered in Texas’ border security efforts.

The 5-4 order from the Supreme Court vacated a previous injunction from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that prevented Border Patrol agents from cutting the concertina wire.

In recent weeks, Shelby Park in Eagle Pass has become the center of a standoff between Texas and the federal government over immigration enforcement. Most recently, Gov. Greg Abbott has ramped up border enforcement around the 47-acre park by surrounding the perimeter by the razor wire and limiting access to the city park.

“The Biden Administration has repeatedly cut wire that Texas installed to stop illegal crossings, opening the floodgates to illegal immigrants. The absence of razor wire and other deterrence strategies encourages migrants to make unsafe and illegal crossings between ports of entry, while making the job of Texas National Guard soldiers and DPS troopers more dangerous and difficult,” Andrew Mahaleris, a spokesperson for Abbott, said in a statement. “This case is ongoing, and Governor Abbott will continue fighting to defend Texas' property and its constitutional authority to secure the border.”

In a statement Tuesday, the White House celebrated the Supreme Court's order that enabled federal authorities to “address urgent humanitarian situations and enforce our laws.”

“Texas’ political stunts, like placing razor wire near the border, simply make it harder and more dangerous for frontline personnel to do their jobs. Ultimately, we need adequate resources and policy changes to address our broken immigration system,” the statement said. “That is why on his first day in office President Biden presented Congress with a comprehensive immigration reform plan and that is why he is working to find a bipartisan agreement with Congress that includes additional resources and meaningful policy reforms.”

Biden's U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 has faced an uphill battle since he introduced it three years ago. Since then, Congress has yet to come to bipartisan agreement on how to resolve the issue as Republicans, and even some Democrats, continue to condemn the president's handling of the border.

Since 2021, Abbott’s Operation Lone Star initiative has created tension between the state and federal government. Under the operation, Abbott has deployed state troopers across the 1,200 mile Texas-Mexico border; ordered state police to arrest migrants who are suspected of trespassing; spent $11 million to install 70,000 rolls of concertina wire along the Rio Grande; and spent $1.5 billion on about a dozen miles of border walls.

As migrants have attempted to get through the wire, Border Patrol has cut through parts of the barrier to assist injured people. Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against DHS, claiming federal agents had illegally destroyed state property.

A U.S. district court judge based in Del Rio sided with the federal government, 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 the ruling until the case went through the appeals process.

On Jan. 12, National Guard members blocked federal border agents from accessing the Rio Grande after three migrants drowned while crossing the river and two others were still struggling in the water, according to a court filing by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The state denied the federal agency’s version of events, arguing that Mexican officials had the situation under control in subsequent court filings.

On Monday, the Supreme Court vacated the 5th Circuit’s order after the Biden administration sent a cease and desist letter to Paxton for blocking federal access to the border. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the court’s three liberal justices in issuing the order.

“The Supreme Court’s temporary order allows Biden to continue his illegal effort to aid the foreign invasion of America,” Paxton said in a statement. “The destruction of Texas’ border barriers will not help enforce the law or keep American citizens safe. This fight is not over, and I look forward to defending our state’s sovereignty.”

Immigration rights groups have criticized Texas officials' use of the term “invasion” for potentially inciting violence against Hispanic people.

In a separate lawsuit, President Joe Biden sued Texas over the deployment of floating barriers on the Rio Grande, also in Eagle Pass. In December, the 5th Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, ordered Texas to remove the barrier. Texas has asked the appeals court to reconsider the case.