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Texas authorities have begun arresting migrants at a public park near the US-Mexico border


Eagle Pass, Texas
CNN
 — 

As the surge of migrants continues to overwhelm authorities at the US-Mexico border, tensions between Texas and federal officials are escalating.

Here are the latest developments:

Texas authorities arrested migrants at Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, Texas, late Wednesday evening and charged them with criminal trespassing, marking the first arrests of migrants since the state took control of the area at the US-Mexico border last week, an official said.

The arrests were announced by Lt. Chris Olivarez at the Texas Department of Public Safety on social media, where he also posted videos on X showing migrants being handcuffed and taken away by authorities.

Single adult migrant men and women were taken into state custody, while migrant families and children were transferred to US Border Patrol, Olivarez said.

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

Migrants arrested for criminal trespassing first face the state charge before they are transferred to US Border Patrol officials, Olivarez said. The arrests took place at Shelby Park and private lands where the landowner granted the state authority to make arrests, Olivarez explained.

The arrests come as tensions flare between Texas and federal officials over the ongoing migrant surge at the US-Mexico border.

The Biden administration informed state officials that they had until the end of Wednesday to stop blocking the US Border Patrol’s access to a 2.5 mile stretch along the US-Mexico border, according to a letter from the Department of Homeland Security obtained exclusively by CNN over the weekend.

The blocked-off area includes the location where a woman and two children drowned in the Rio Grande near Shelby Park last week. The deaths have augmented the rift between Texas and federal officials over who has jurisdiction in that portion of the Rio Grande area and how to tackle the migrant crisis.

In the letter to Texas’ Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, DHS said the state’s actions “have impeded operations” and are unconstitutional. The letter also cited the deaths – among the latest in the ongoing migrant crisis – near the park where state authorities have erected fencing and kept out federal agents.

By the end of Wednesday, the DHS warned it would “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” if Texas doesn’t confirm it will “cease and desist its efforts to block Border Patrol’s access in and around the Shelby Park area and remove all barriers to access to the U.S.-Mexico border,” the letter states.

“Texas’s failure to provide access to the border persists even in instances of imminent danger to life and safety,” the letter from Department of Homeland Security General Counsel Jonathan Meyer stated. “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.”

Border Patrol authorities have apprehended an average of 4,000 migrants per day this week along the US-Mexico border, according to a law enforcement source familiar with operations. This marks an increase from the estimated 3,000 migrant encounters per day earlier this month but is still significantly lower than the more than 10,000 daily apprehensions reported in December.

In the Del Rio Border Patrol Sector, which includes Eagle Pass, about 750 migrants are apprehended a day compared to about 2,400 per day in mid-December, according to another law enforcement source.

The Department of Homeland Security has attributed the nosedive in apprehensions to enhanced enforcement on the Mexican side of the border following a meeting between US officials and their Mexican counterparts in late December.

While border apprehensions are down at the US southern border, migration fluctuates and could increase at any time, the sources noted.

Paxton on Wednesday responded to federal officials, saying “Texas will not surrender,” in a statement issued by his office.

In a three-page letter, Paxton claimed Texas has constitutional authority to defend its territory, an authority he plans to continue fighting for in the courts, according to the letter.

Paxton said in the letter that Border Patrol personnel have access to Shelby Park to respond to medical emergencies.

The dispute between Texas and federal officials continues as the White House and lawmakers challenge Texas’ policies, including a new law that deems entering the state illegally a state crime. Disagreements over the issue has also caused a ripple effect in states where migrants have been sent by Texas officials.

The polarizing issue made its way to the US Supreme Court when the Biden administration requested it to intervene after Texas sued over Border Patrol agents’ practice of removing razor wire put in place by the state along a portion of the border near Eagle Pass.

An appeals court ordered the agents to stop removing the wire while legal challenges play out, and the administration has asked the high court to step in on an emergency basis to wipe that order.

The drownings last Friday “underscore that Texas is firm in its continued efforts to exercise complete control of the border and land … and to block Border Patrol’s access to the border even in emergency circumstances,” the Biden administration wrote late Monday in a filing to the Supreme Court in that case.

“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,” Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in the filing.

“At the very least, however, Border Patrol would have had the opportunity to take any available steps to fulfill its responsibilities and assist its counterparts in the Mexican government with undertaking the rescue mission,” she continued. “Texas made that impossible.”

The Texas Military Department, meanwhile, said by the time Border Patrol agents requested access to the site Friday night, “the drownings had occurred, Mexican authorities were recovering the bodies, and Border Patrol expressed these facts to the TMD personnel on site.”

“At no time did TMD security personnel along the river observe any distressed migrants, nor did TMD turn back any illegal immigrants from the US during this period,” the Texas Military Department said. “Also, at no point was TMD made aware of any bodies in the area of Shelby Park, nor was TMD made aware of any bodies being discovered on the US side of the border regarding this situation.”

Meanwhile, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals said Wednesday it will rehear a case in which it had initially upheld a lower court’s order directing the state of Texas to remove its border buoys from the Rio Grande. The floating border barriers are expected to stay in the river pending the outcome of the en banc rehearing. Oral arguments in that case are expected to begin in May.

The dispute over the migrant issue at the border has triggered some members belonging to a group known for using demonizing rhetoric and intersecting with extremists to take to social media and call for people to travel to Eagle Pass in opposition.

The group has urged what it calls “patriots” from across the country to go to Eagle Pass “to demand that elected officials honor their oath of office to defend the border against a ‘foreign invasion,’” according to a member’s online video that employs the term far-right groups use for the border crisis. A property owner will let the group set up tents, campers and RVs, he said.

Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber is monitoring the potential arrival this weekend of people from around the country and is concerned for the safety and security of the area due to the heated rhetoric on immigration, he told CNN.

But, according to Texas state Rep. Eddie Morales Jr., this group is misinformed about border security and immigration policy.

“The Republicans control the House of Representatives right now, if they were truly interested in solving this issue, they would fast track a border immigration and a border security bill by tomorrow,” said Morales, a Democrat who represents 11 counties in West Texas, including the city of Eagle Pass.

He pointed out that the group should camp outside Congress and demand lawmakers act on immigration.

Groups like this one that use the term “patriot” as part of their names emerged 2020 to get Donald Trump to form a third major political party, the Anti-Defamation League told CNN in a statement. While such groups are not inherently extremist, they engage in demonizing rhetoric, far-right policy causes and at times intersect with extremist groups and movements, it said.

A charter bus company hired by the state of Texas to transport migrants to Chicago is trying to flip the script on the border crisis in a federal lawsuit against the city alleging its ordinance banning unannounced migrant drop-offs is unconstitutional and punishes transportation companies working with Texas, court documents show.

Wynne Transportation LLC is fighting new restrictions in Chicago against buses dropping off one-way passengers without prior notice.

The ordinance does not specifically mention immigration, but city leaders have acknowledged it is in response to the influx of more than 30,000 migrants arriving from Texas on government-contracted charter buses, often dropped off on street corners with little or no notice.

CNN reached out to the City of Chicago for comment. It has not yet filed a response to the suit in court, and no hearing dates have been set in the case.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

CNN’s Joe Sutton, Melissa Alonso, Devan Cole and Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.

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