Texas blocks federal border agents from processing migrants in public park

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Washington — Texas state officials this week abruptly blocked federal U.S. Border Patrol agents from entering and patrolling a public area in the border town of Eagle Pass where they typically first encounter migrants who cross the Rio Grande illegally, two U.S. officials told CBS News on Thursday.

After seizing control of Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, Texas National Guard units deployed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott have prevented Border Patrol agents from entering the area, the federal officials said. Border Patrol has used the park in recent weeks to hold migrants in an outdoor staging area before they are transported for further processing, including last month, when illegal crossings soared to record levels.

Earlier Thursday, Texas state officials prevented Border Patrol boats from patrolling that area, one of the officials added, requesting anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.

"They are denying entry to Border Patrol agents to conduct our duties," the official said, noting they are not sure "what authority (Texas officials) have over the federal government."

In a filing early Friday with the Supreme Court, the Justice Department described the extraordinary standoff between Texas and the federal government. Citing testimony from local officials and photos, the Justice Department said Texas was using armed Guardsmen and vehicles to deny Border Patrol agents and federal National Guard soldiers access to roughly 2.5 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Texas's new actions," the Justice Department said, "demonstrate an escalation of the State's measures to block Border Patrol's ability to patrol or even to surveil the border and be in a position to respond to emergencies."

Texas National Guard soldiers install additional razor wire lie along the Rio Grande on Jan. 10, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas.  / Credit: Getty Images
Texas National Guard soldiers install additional razor wire lie along the Rio Grande on Jan. 10, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas. / Credit: Getty Images

Under federal law, Border Patrol has a legal responsibility to process migrants on U.S. soil and determine whether to detain them, transfer them to another agency, deport them or release them into the country, pending a court hearing. The international boundary between the U.S. and Mexico is located in the middle of the Rio Grande in Texas.

Eagle Pass Mayor Rolando Salinas said the small city, which administers Shelby Park, did not give Texas state officials permission to take over the area. "This is not something that we wanted," Salinas said Thursday. "This is not something that we asked for as a city."

Michael Perry, a spokesperson for the Texas Military Department, which oversees the state National Guard, said the actions taken by the state were designed to prevent illegal crossings by migrants.

"The Texas National Guard has maintained a presence with security points and temporary barrier in Shelby Park since 2021," Perry said in a statement. "The current posture is to prepare for future illegal immigrant surges and to restrict access to organizations that perpetuate illegal immigrant crossings in the park and greater Eagle Pass area."

In a statement Friday regarding the events in Eagle Pass, White House spokesperson Angelo Fernández Hernández said Texas was seeking to "politicize the border."

"Governor Abbott continues his extreme political stunts that not only seek to demonize and dehumanize people, but that also make it harder and more dangerous for Border Patrol to do their jobs," Fernández Hernández said.

The seizure of Shelby Park is the latest and most brazen effort by Texas state officials to challenge the federal government's authority on immigration. Under Abbott's leadership, Texas has bused tens of thousands of migrants to Democratic-led cities, arrested thousands of migrant adults on trespassing charges and fortified the banks of the Rio Grande with razor wire and floating barriers.

Last month, Abbott signed a law known as SB4 that would allow Texas law enforcement officials to arrest, jail and prosecute migrants on state criminal charges of entering the country illegally. The law, which criminalizes an action already illegal at the federal level, is being challenged in federal court by the Justice Department and civil rights groups. It is set to take effect in March.

In an affidavit attached to the Supreme Court filing, Robert Danley, a top Customs and Border Protection official in Eagle Pass, said Texas' actions were preventing his agents from patrolling the Rio Grande and processing migrants, including those who may be in distress. The park's seizure by the state, Danley said, has also reduced Border Patrol's surveillance capability in that area by 90% and created safety risks for both migrants and agents.

Now, Border Patrol is being forced to process migrants near a busy highway, Danley added.

"Without access to the staging area, mobile intake and loading onto transportation must occur on the shoulder along Loop 480, a busy two-lane highway most frequently used by commercial traffic traveling at a high speed," Danley wrote. "Because of the lack of physical space, there is an increased risk to both migrants and agents of traffic-related injury."

When he asked Texas officials to explain their actions, Danley said he was "advised that Texas does not want Border Patrol to be able to arrest, process, or transport migrants out of the identified area."

Nicole Sganga contributed reporting.

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