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Texas refuses to surrender Shelby Park to federal authorities after Biden admin sends cease-and-desist letter

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Texas fired back at the Biden administration on Wednesday, informing the Department of Homeland Security that the Lone Star State will not comply with a demand letter insisting that the state allow federal border authorities into Shelby Park – a hive of illegal border crossings. 

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott took control of the Eagle Pass park last week –  erecting fences to keep citizens and federal border agents out – as part of his emergency declaration to combat the migrant crisis.

“Because the facts and law side with Texas, the State will continue utilizing its constitutional authority to defend her territory, and I will continue defending those lawful efforts in court,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote in a letter to DHS General Counsel Jonathan Meyer. 

“The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should stop wasting scarce time and resources suing Texas, and start enforcing the immigration laws Congress already has on the books,” he added. 

Texas National Guardsmen stand behind a gate at Shelby Park in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Jan. 13, 2024. Adam Davis/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
A recently set up Texas National Guard patrol station sits behind new razor and concertina wire in Shelby Park, at the U.S.-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Jan. 16, 2024. REUTERS

Paxton’s rebuttal follows a Jan. 14 cease-and-desist notice sent out by the Biden administration demanding that the state stop impeding US Border Patrol agents from accessing the roughly two-and-a-half miles of US-Mexico border along Shelby Park, which abuts the Rio Grande. 

“Your letter misstates both the facts and the law in demanding that Texas surrender to President Biden’s open-border policies,” Paxton charges, adding that the missive “betrays a lack of on-the-ground understanding of what is happening in Shelby Park.”

The White House and DHS on Saturday accused Texas officials of blocking Border Patrol agents from attempting to provide emergency assistance to three migrants – a woman and two children – who drowned near Shelby Park the previous night. 

National Guard soldiers stand guard on the banks of the Rio Grande River at Shelby Park on Jan. 12, 2024, in Eagle Pass, Texas. Getty Images

The Biden administration, however, has since admitted that the three migrants died at least an hour before Border Patrol sought access to the park. 

The Justice Department indicated in a filing with the Supreme Court Tuesday that Mexican officials notified Border Patrol at 9 p.m. local time that the migrants had drowned at 8 p.m., but that two additional migrants were “in distress” on the US side of the Rio Grande.

The two migrants were rescued by Mexican officials and found to be suffering from hypothermia. 

The DOJ argued that federal agents may have been able to spot the drowning migrants if they had access to the park.

A National Guard soldier stands guard at the gate of Shelby Park which is now used as an operation center in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Jan. 17, 2024. REUTERS

“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,” the filing said. “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. Texas made that impossible.”

In his letter, Paxton called it “vile” and “completely inaccurate” to blame Texas for the tragic deaths. 

“Contrary to your letter, [the Texas Military Department] did not prevent U.S. Border Patrol from entering Shelby Park to attempt a water rescue of migrants in distress,” the attorney general wrote. “The federal agents at the gate did not even have a boat, and they did not request entry based on any medical exigency.”

Concertina wire, placed by the Texas National Guard, is set up around the perimeter of a pit previously used to hold migrants in Shelby Park, at the US-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Jan. 16, 2024. REUTERS

“Instead, the federal agents told TMD’s staff sergeant that Mexican officials had already recovered dead bodies and that the situation was under control,” he added. “Texas’s Guardsmen nevertheless made a diligent search, only to confirm that Mexican officials had recovered the migrants’ bodies, downriver from the Shelby Park boat ramp and on their side of the river.” 

The Texas governor also weighed in Wednesday, tweeting that “Biden was clearly wrong to blame Texas for deaths in the Rio Grande.”

“As a federal judge already ruled, Biden & DHS ‘create a perverse incentive’ for migrants to make dangerous illegal crossings,” Abbott added. “Biden is to blame for drownings.” 




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