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Feds demand Texas stop blocking Border Patrol agents access to border

By Neelam Bohra and Sneha Dey, The Texas Tribune

Feds demand Texas stop blocking Border Patrol agents access to border” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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The Biden Administration has demanded Texas authorities stop blocking federal Border Patrol agents’ full access to part of the U.S. border with Mexico in a cease and desist letter sent to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Last Wednesday, Texas troopers took control over Eagle Pass’s 47-acre Shelby Park along the Rio Grande, denying federal Border Patrol agents entry to the park. On Friday evening, a woman and two children drowned trying to cross and two others were rescued by Mexican authorities.

The letter sent to Paxton’s office on Sunday signed by Jonathan Meyer, general counsel for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, insists that Texas’ actions have “impeded operations of border patrol,” and are in “conflict with the authority and duties of Border Patrol under federal law,” and are unconstitutional.

The state has until Wednesday to stop blocking Border Patrol’s access and remove all barriers. If the state does not comply, federal authorities will “refer the matter to the Department of Justice for appropriate action and consider all other options available to restore Border Patrol’s access to the border,” the letter said.

Paxton could not be immediately reached for comment as of Monday morning.

On Friday, Border Patrol agents received a call that a group of migrants was attempting to cross the river from Grupo Beta, a group affiliated with the Mexican government, according to the Homeland Security letter. Border Patrol contacted Texas officials and requested access to the border, and Texas refused.

Later, a rescue team from Mexico was able to rescue two individuals from the group, both with signs of hypothermia, the letter said. Three others, the woman and two children, drowned.

“Texas’s failure to provide access to the border persists even in instances of imminent danger to life and safety,” Meyer said in the letter.

In a recent press release, the Texas Military Department has disagreed with this timeline, stating that “claims of Border Patrol requesting access to save distressed migrants are inaccurate.”

The state press release says Border Patrol requested access to the park after the drownings had already occurred.

“Turns out @RepCuellar (& some media) were so eager to point finger at Texas for drowning of migrants they forgot to get the facts,” Gov. Greg Abbott said on X, formerly known as Twitter, about the deaths.

Initially, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, had said in a written statement on Saturday that Border Patrol officers went in person to verbally notify the state of the attempted crossing after they attempted to contact the Texas Military Department, National Guard and Department of Public Safety via telephone about the distress call. Texas Military Department personnel still denied them entry.

“Texas Military Department soldiers stated they would not grant (Border Patrol) access to the migrants – even in the event of an emergency – and that they would send a soldier to investigate the situation,” Cuellar had said in the statement on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The bodies of the three migrants were recovered by Mexican authorities on Saturday morning, Cuellar said. Officials have not yet released the names or any other information on the deceased.

“This is a tragedy, and the state bears responsibility,” Cuellar, a ranking member of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, wrote.

U.S. Custom and Border Protection condemned the state actions in a statement to The Texas Tribune.

“We remain gravely concerned by actions that prevent the U.S. Border Patrol from performing their essential missions of arresting individuals who enter the United States unlawfully and providing humanitarian response to individuals in need,” the CBP spokesperson said on Saturday.

Starting on Wednesday night, the Texas Department of Public Safety erected concertina wire and fencing at Shelby Park to close off access to the public, said Eagle Pass Mayor Rolando Salinas earlier this week. The move from the state was against the wishes of city officials.

Some of the 2.5-mile stretch that Texas troopers have blocked off are also on federal land, Meyer said in the letter. The federal government, he said, has legal access to private land within 25 miles of the border.

Federal agents had routinely used the park to patrol the border, used a boat ramp to launch their boats and a staging area to inspect migrants who have been apprehended, according to a court filing from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Texas’ new actions since the government’s filing 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,” Elizabeth B. Prelogar, the DOJ’s solicitor general, wrote in the filing to the Supreme Court.

Eagle Pass, about 140 miles southwest of San Antonio, has been the epicenter of Abbott’s immigration enforcement efforts in the past year. Thousands of migrants have crossed the border illegally in the area, and many have been injured trying to get through the concertina wire that the state deployed on the banks of the Rio Grande.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/01/13/henry-cuellar-texas-border-eagle-pass/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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