Texas to ignore federal deadline over Border Patrol access in Eagle Pass

Texas leaders have incentive to keep border issues in the headlines during this election season.

By Sarah AschJanuary 19, 2024 1:06 pm,

Texas will disregard the federal government’s demand to give Border Patrol agents access to the Rio Grande through state-controlled Shelby Park in Eagle Pass.

Attorney General Ken Paxton received a cease-and-desist letter on Sunday that warned of action from the U.S. Justice Department if the state did not grant the requested access to federal agents.

The Biden administration gave Texas officials until Wednesday to comply — but instead Paxton responded with his own letter criticizing Joe Biden’s immigration policies and defending Texas’ right to control the park.  

Julián Aguilar, who covers the border for the Texas Newsroom, said it is unclear exactly what next steps will be from the federal government.

“Right now everybody’s sort of in wait-and-see mode,” he said. “In a separate issue, (there’s disagreement) on whether or not federal agents could cut some of the concertina wire that’s been installed on the banks of the river under Operation Lone Star.

The Department of Justice asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on that and help them out and say that federal agents could have access to certain areas. So there’s talk out there that maybe that’s what the Biden administration is waiting for, for the Supreme Court to weigh in on this separate issue, which also goes hand in hand, obviously, and access to the border.”

For now, though, Shelby Park is still under state control. The area goes along a 2.5 mile stretch of the Rio Grande River in Eagle Pass, and it has been used as a staging area for large border crossings, Aguilar said. 

“It’s been an issue in the past where the City of Eagle Pass had control of it, then the state took over, then it went back to the city. And then obviously, the federal government had the freedom to operate within specific border boundaries,” he said. “What happened was the state all of a sudden said, ‘the federal government is allowing too many people to come in through Shelby Park. So we’re going to go ahead and take that over again.’

This isn’t the first time that Texas has come into conflict with the federal government over Operation Lone Star, Aguilar said. 

“Last year, they set up concertina wire out here in El Paso on the banks of the river, which are under control of the IBWC, the International Boundary Water Commission, which is also a federal agency,” he said. “This is just sort of another in a series of Abbott sort of stepping up his game and challenging the federal government. This one just got a lot of attention because of the situation in Eagle Pass, and how that’s been sort of an epicenter of crossings.”

Aguilar said there are also political advantages for both Abbott and Paxton in keeping the border in the news.

“All this is happening under the backdrop of an approaching primary season,” Aguilar said. “I mean, we’re less than a month out from early voting in the March primaries. And while Gov. Abbott and Attorney General Paxton are not up for reelection, obviously it’s a presidential election year.

Border security is factoring into a lot of national races, as well as some local House races here in Texas. So as long as they keep this in the spotlight, I think it just bodes well for the image that they want folks to have of Texas fighting back against the Biden administration.”

Aguilar said some Democrats are also questioning why the Biden administration waited until recently to challenge Texas’ actions on the border.

“Operation Lone Star is almost three years old, and Democrats have been asking for some sort of intervention pretty much since its inception,” he said. “And they haven’t seen much until recently.”

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