The fight between Texas and the federal government over the control of the US-Mexico border has further intensified after state governor Greg Abbott announced he will defy the Biden administration and US supreme court by ordering the installation of even more razor wire to deter migration.
On Monday, the supreme court voted 5-4 in favor of the federal government’s power to remove the controversial concertina wire installed along stretches of the border in Texas, at Abbott’s direction. Despite this, Abbott, a hard-right Republican, is intensifying his plans to try and fence off parts of the US border with Mexico.
Federal agents were given further confirmation this week at the supreme court that they may remove the razor wire, as the enforcement of immigration law is under federal jurisdiction. But Abbott has argued there is nothing preventing him from ordering the Texas national guard to continue laying more razor wire down. The national guard is ultimately part of the US military, overseen by the US president as commander-in chief, but except in specific situations where the president explicitly takes federal control, the national guard in each state takes orders from its state governor.
Immigration matters, as confirmed in the 2012 supreme court case Arizona v United States, officially fall under the federal government – not individual states. Abbott has repeatedly invoked the invasion clause, essentially as a loophole, in the US and Texas constitutions, likening migrants to a public foreign enemy, which gives him the right to enforce border security and immigration matters, he argues.
Fatma Marouf, a law professor and the director of the immigrant rights clinic at Texas A&M University’s School of Law said Abbott’s decision to lay more wire down “seems to defy the purpose of the supreme court’s order”.
Marouf said the supreme court ruled in favor of “the federal government to continue its control of the border area.
“The briefing really focused on the need for US customs and border protection officers to access the bank of the river to save migrants. There were reports of people being caught in the wire and dying. So to continue laying the wire really undermines the purpose of the injunction.”
In Abbott’s statement released on Wednesday announcing his plan to continue going around the federal government, amid legal challenges, he accused Biden, the Democratic president, of using taxpayer dollars to “tear open” the border.
“The federal government has broken the compact between the United States and the states. The executive branch of the United States has a constitutional duty to enforce those laws and has even violated them,” Abbott said.
“The result is that he has smashed records for illegal immigration.”
Civil rights organizations, such as the League of United Latin American Citizens (Lulac), condemned the use of razor wire and other deterrents, such as a floating barrier of buoys with nets and barbed wire in the Rio Grande, as “inhumane”.
In response to the supreme court’s ruling, Lulac national president Domingo García said: “Lulac today supports the supreme court ruling that only the federal government has jurisdiction over all border and immigration issues. Texas Governor Abbott’s political stunts are costing millions of taxpayers’ dollars and accomplishing nothing to solve the humanitarian crisis at the border.
“Not to mention the human tragedy of deaths on barbed wire walls of innocent woman and children.”
Earlier this month, a mother and her two children, from Mexico, drowned in the river near Eagle Pass – a section of the border where state officials physically blocked federal agents from accessing part of the banks of the Rio Grande. Their deaths prompted a fierce response from US homeland security spokesperson, Luis Miranda, who said “the state of Texas should stop interfering with the US Border Patrol’s enforcement of US law”.
The use of razor wire is part of Abbott’s publicly funded Operation Lone Star program, a joint effort between the Texas department of public safety and the Texas military department that began in 2021 to curb irregular migration. It coincided with more people crossing into the US because they were unable to claim asylum at an official crossing point or by appointment. Meanwhile, tense talks continue in Washington over legislation to tighten border restrictions.
Marouf said Texas’s move is also “very concerning” because of its implications on the right to seek asylum.
“We have in our immigration laws guaranteed a right to seek asylum for people fleeing persecution. And laying down barbed wire is the opposite of what we’re meant to do,” she said.
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