Texas Defies Biden Admin’s Demand It Give Access to Border

(John Moore/Getty Images)
January 18, 2024

Texas on Wednesday refused a demand from President Joe Biden's administration to give Border Patrol agents access to a section of the border the state blocked the federal government from accessing last week.

The letter of refusal from Texas's attorney general, Ken Paxton (R.), came in response to a demand from the Department of Homeland Security general counsel Jonathan Meyer that the Texas National Guard cease and desist its occupation of a 2.5-mile stretch of the southern border that includes Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, a highly trafficked area for crossings.

"Rather than addressing Texas’s urgent requests for protection, President Biden has authorized DHS to send a threatening letter through its lawyers," Paxton wrote. "But Texas has lawyers, too, and I will continue to stand up for this State’s constitutional powers of self-defense."

Meyer had argued in his Sunday letter that Texas violated the Constitution and impeded the federal government's ability to detect border crossings and apprehend migrants entering the country illegally.

"Texas’s actions are clearly unconstitutional and are actively disrupting the federal government’s operations," Meyer wrote. "We demand that Texas cease and desist its efforts to block Border Patrol’s access in and around the Shelby Park area and remove all barriers to access in the Shelby Park area." Meyer said that DHS would send the dispute to the Department of Justice and explore "all other options available" to regain access to the area if the state did not yield.

At the center of the disagreement was the Jan. 12 drowning of three migrants in the Rio Grande.

Upon hearing about a group of migrants attempting to cross the river, Meyer claimed, federal agents asked for access to the border. Texas refused the request, demonstrating "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."

Paxton countered that the agents told the Texas National Guard that Mexican officials had already recovered the bodies of the migrants and "did not request entry based on any medical exigency."

The White House earlier this week said of the migrants' drowning that Texas "blocked U.S. Border Patrol from attempting to provide emergency assistance," calling Gov. Greg Abbott's (R.) actions "cruel, inhumane, and dangerous."

In a later court filing, however, the administration attested that its agents, in requesting access to the area, told the guardsmen that the three migrants had already drowned and informed them that there were two remaining migrants in distress. Texas denied the agents access, and Mexican authorities later rescued the two remaining distressed migrants, who suffered hypothermia, according to Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar.

"It is impossible to say what might have happened if Border Patrol had had its former access to the area—including through its surveillance trucks that assisted in monitoring the area," Prelogar wrote.

The Texas Military Department, which oversees the Texas National Guard, had said Sunday that officers apprehended two migrants, one of whom suffered from hypothermia, after Border Patrol requested access to the area to secure "two additional migrants that were presumed to have traveled with the deceased, though had crossed to the boat ramp [in the seized area]."

"Claims of Border Patrol requesting access to save distressed migrants are inaccurate. Claims that [the Texas Military Department] prevented Border Patrol from saving the lives of drowning migrants are wholly inaccurate," it added.

This week's exchange between Meyer and Paxton is the latest in a dispute between the Biden and Abbott administrations over the border. Prelogar's filing last week that revealed Texas authorities' seizure of the area was part of a legal fight in the Supreme Court over federal agents' cutting razor wire on the border installed by Texas. The Biden administration is challenging the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals's December ruling that it was not allowed to dismantle the wire.