Texas refuses to surrender park to Border Patrol, arrests migrants

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Texas officials arrested migrants on suspicion of criminal trespassing at a park in Eagle Pass, Texas, late Wednesday night, intensifying a legal battle between Gov. Greg Abbott and the Biden administration and escalating a showdown over border security policies.

Chris Olivarez, a spokesperson with the Texas Department of Public Safety, said in a statement posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Texas troopers are acting under a “disaster declaration” issued by Abbott, who has increasingly taken more aggressive steps to crack down on illegal immigration along the Texas-Mexico border.

Olivarez shared videos and photos of migrants being handcuffed and led away by authorities. Authorities are arresting single men and women on criminal trespassing, he said. The apprehensions occurred in Shelby Park, a public park in Eagle Pass that sits on the bank of the Rio Grande River and has come under state control as part of Abbott’s beefed-up border measures, setting up a wider dispute with the federal government over access to the area.

“The State of #Texas will maintain a proactive posture in curbing illegal border crossings between the ports of entry,” Olivarez wrote in the tweet.

Olivarez did not immediately return requests for comment on the number of arrests made and other questions about Wednesday night’s apprehensions.

Tensions between Texas and the Biden administration over border security measures have flared in recent days. According to the federal government, Texas has blocked Border Patrol agents from accessing the 2.5-mile strip of land bordering the Rio Grande River that includes Shelby Park and the surrounding area, which is restricted with fencing, concertina wire and other barriers. A migrant woman and two children drowned Friday trying to cross the Rio Grande near the area that is currently sealed off to federal agents.

Whether a lack of access played a role in the deaths is disputed between the federal government and Texas authorities.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a cease-and-desist letter to Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton, saying Texas had until Wednesday night to stop blocking Border Patrol agents full access to the Shelby Park area or it would refer the matter to the Justice Department “for appropriate action.”

“The recent actions by the State of Texas have impeded operations of the Border Patrol,” Jonathan E. Meyer, general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security, wrote. “Texas has demonstrated 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.”

The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Paxton issued a three-page letter Wednesday night, disputing Homeland Security claims and saying because “the facts and law side with Texas, the State will continue utilizing its constitutional authority to defend her territory.”

According to Paxton’s letter, Homeland Security has a “lack of on-the-ground understanding of what is happening in Shelby Park.”

Federal agents can access the park in medical emergencies, Paxton said. Paxton also criticized what it said were the government’s attempts to blame the recent drowning deaths on the state as “vile,” saying “that tragedy is your fault.”

The drowning deaths have further ignited a legal battle between Texas and the federal government over immigration enforcement, a national issue that is expected to be a central feature of the 2024 election cycle.

The Biden administration has also asked the Supreme Court to intervene in the issue.

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