Eagle Pass, Texas.
Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images
An unusual standoff between the federal and state governments is taking shape on Texas’s border with Mexico — a battle over states’ rights and migrant safety that has several Republican lawmakers exaggerating the tension as a budding civil war. The conflict comes amid a record influx of migrants across the southern border, something that is sure to be a major issue in this year’s presidential race. Below is everything you need to know about Texas governor Greg Abbott’s fight with the Biden administration over razor wire on the border, the rallying cry from nearly all Republican governors, and the Supreme Court order that set it all off.
Razor wire has long been used on sections of the border between the United States and Mexico to stop undocumented migrants from crossing over. In May 2021, Texas governor Greg Abbott expanded the use of wire when he ordered a disaster declaration on the border, which allowed the state to install the fencing on private property near the Rio Grande. In October, Texas attorney general Ken Paxton sued the Biden administration over the removal of this razor wire by Customs and Border Protection agents. Federal agents had been cutting through the concertina wire to rescue migrants in danger, which the lawsuit claimed was destruction of state property to “assist” migrants in crossing.
After a back-and-forth in appeals courts, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a brief 5-4 decision to temporarily pause a lower court’s ruling blocking CBP agents from cutting the fences. Legal experts say there is an obvious reason for the Supreme Court’s decision: The Constitution states that control of the nation’s borders is a federal matter.
On Wednesday, Abbott issued a statement claiming that “the federal government has broken the compact between the United States and the States” by failing to stop migrants from crossing the border. In the few days since, the Texas National Guard and state troopers have continued their standoff with Border Patrol agents over the wire.
One flashpoint is the 47-acre park Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, a popular crossing point hugging the Rio Grande; Texas law-enforcement officials have installed wire along the park’s riverbank and supervise access to the park. On January 14, a woman and two children drowned there. Border Patrol agents say that Texas National Guard troops “physically barred” them from accessing the park to save them. (The Texas National Guard has stated this is “inaccurate.”)
Republicans have flocked to Abbott’s defense, citing the standoff as an example of federal encroachment upon state rights — even if the question at hand, an international border, is a federal matter. Representative Clay Higgins even said that the Biden administration is “staging a civil war.” Ted Cruz posted a picture of concertina wire over a phrase from the Texas revolution:
Between primary rallies and court appearances, Donald Trump additionally called on on “all willing states to deploy their guards to Texas.” Every Republican governor except Phil Scott of Vermont has signed a joint statement siding with Texas and its “constitutional right to self-defense.” Glenn Youngkin of Virginia and Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas even sent a small number of their National Guard to the border in support.
In past standoffs between state officials and the federal government, presidents have taken the step of federalizing the local national guard as a resolution. Notable examples include Dwight Eisenhower federalizing the Arkansas National Guard to ensure the Little Rock Nine safe passage to their desegregated high school in 1957 and John F. Kennedy federalizing the Alabama National Guard to allow Black students to register to attend the University of Alabama in 1963.
While Biden has not motioned that he would make such a major step, Democratic Representative Joaquin Castro has called on the president to do so.
This post has been updated.