Texas erects new border barrier as dispute with Biden administration ramps up

By John Kruzel and Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Texas this week erected new barriers along part of the state’s border with Mexico, blocking Border Patrol access, a court filing said on Friday, as conflict over migration escalates between the state’s Republican governor and Democratic U.S. President Joe Biden.

The Texas National Guard added new concertina wire and fencing to a stretch of the border near Eagle Pass, blocking U.S. Border Patrol access to a city park that contains a boat ramp agents use to reach the Rio Grande, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a filing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Robert Danley, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection official, stated in the filing that without the boat ramp, agents had no way to monitor that area and “no practical options for responding to migrants who may be in distress.”

The dispute is part of a broader standoff between the Biden administration and Texas Governor Greg Abbott over a record number of migrants illegally crossing the border since Biden took office in 2021. Texas has increasingly sought to implement its own border controls, which have historically been the legal domain of the federal government.

In one of Abbott’s more prominent moves, the state since 2022 has bused some 100,000 migrants from the border to Democratic strongholds further north, including Chicago and New York.

Abbott in a Friday press conference said Texas has the legal authority to control entry to any location within the state, including Shelby Park in Eagle Pass.

“That authority is being asserted with regard to that park in Eagle Pass, Texas, to maintain operational control of it,” the governor said.

A spokesperson for the Texas Military Department said the National Guard has maintained a presence and temporary barrier in the park since 2021 and that current actions aimed to deter future illegal crossings.

Abbott has already ordered the installation of razor wire and floating buoys in the Rio Grande, which divides the U.S. from Mexico, sparking the court battle with the Biden administration.

White House spokesperson Angelo Fernandez Hernandez criticized the moves by Texas as reckless and politically motivated.

“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,” he said in a statement.

The Biden administration earlier this month asked the Supreme Court justices to temporarily allow Border Patrol agents to cut or remove controversial wire fencing that Texas says is needed to deter illegal crossings.

The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the administration’s request to pause a lower court’s ruling that temporarily blocked federal agents from disturbing the fencing while litigation is ongoing.

Migrant arrests at the border have dropped in recent weeks after surpassing 10,000 per day in mid-December, according to internal U.S. government figures shared with Reuters.

While Mexico has stepped up enforcement, a senior U.S. official earlier this month cautioned that migrant crossings have historically fallen around Christmas and could rise again.

(Reporting by John Kruzel and Ted Hesson in Washington; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Mica Rosenberg, Chizu Nomiyama and Rosalba O’Brien)